April 06, 2005

Saul Bellow Dead at 89

Snapshots In My Time...
Of My Time.....Hauntings.

Times on Line

Saul Bellow, a master of comic melancholy who in Herzog, Humboldt’s Gift and other novels mourned the soul’s fate in the modern world, died last night at the age of 89. The Nobel prize-winning author’s close friend Walter Pozen said that he was "wonderfully sharp to the end".
Bellow’s wife and daughter were at his side at his home in Brookline, Massachusetts. He was the most acclaimed of a generation of Jewish writers who emerged after the Second World War, among them Philip Roth and Cynthia Ozick. "The backbone of 20th-century American literature has been provided by two novelists: William Faulkner and Saul Bellow," Philip Roth said.
In 1976 he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature, being praised in the official citation for his "human understanding and subtle analysis of contemporary culture". Bellow kept writing into his eighties. His recent works included The Actual, a novella published in 1997, and Ravelstein, a 2000 novel based on the life of his friend, Allan Bloom, author of The Closing of the American Mind.

As temperamental as he was talented, many critics considered Bellow one of the greatest American novelists of his era, on a par with Henry James, Ernest Hemingway and William Faulkner.

Bellow also won a Pulitzer Prize in 1976 for Humboldt’s Gift, three American National Book Awards and numerous other honours. He wrote more than a dozen works of fiction from The Dangling Man in 1944 to Ravelstein in 2000. His work has pitted him in bitter disputes with other leading members of the literary establishment as well as winning him acclaim.

Solomon Bellows was born June 10, 1915, in Lachine, Quebec, outside Montreal, into a family of Jewish Russian emigres. He was raised in Chicago, which he used for many of his novels, and studied at the University of Chicago and Northwestern University where he earned a bachelor’s degree in anthropology and sociology. He later taught for 30 years at the University of Chicago before leaving for a post in Boston to be nearer to his country retreat.

Bellow followed his first novel, Dangling Man, with The Victim in 1947 and by 1948, a Guggenheim Fellowship allowed him to spend two years in Europe, much of it in Paris. On that trip, he wrote The Adventures of Augie March, which earned him a 1954 National Book Award. In 1964, Herzog won him a National Book Award, turning into a best seller.

He served as a correspondent for Newsday news magazine during the 1967 Arab-Israeli war, returning to write Mr. Sammler’s Planet, which also won a National Book Award, and was published in 1970.

Bellow’s early novels concentrated on topics such as how Americans coped with living through the 1930s depression and the Second World War. Others were more personal. Herzog portrayed the hero, Moses Herzog, agonising over his former wives and other troubles, writing frantic letters to friends, relatives and public figures that he never bothers to mail. Mr Sammler’s Planet depicted a Holocaust survivor coping with 1960s counter-culture in New York City and showed Bellow’s versatility to a generation of youth.

It was his education, fans said, that gave Bellow his keen insight into human behaviour. "It was my habit to register for a course and then to do most of my reading in another field of study. So that when I should have been grinding away at ’Money and Banking’ I was reading the novels of Joseph Conrad," Bellow said on receiving his Nobel prize.

"What he did was create a new American idiom, what he did was infuse the native American idiom with his own Jewish, Western European inflection," said James Atlas, who wrote the praised Bellow: A Biography in 2000. "He always said he was a writer first, an American second and Jewish third. But all three were elements of his genius."

At work in Boston, where he taught as a university professor, Bellow ridiculed the politically correct on campus. He loved traveling and had a volatile temperament and occasionally stormy private life. He divorced four times and married his fifth wife, Janis Freedman, a former University of Chicago student, in 1989. She gave birth to their daughter, Naomi, in 1999 when Bellow was 84. Bellow was also the father of three sons by each of his first three wives.


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