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Henderson the Rain King by Saul Bellow

Henderson the Rain King (1958)

by Saul Bellow

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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2,344474,067 (3.71)78

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» See also 78 mentions

English (45)  Danish (1)  French (1)  All languages (47)
Showing 1-5 of 45 (next | show all)
While I appreciated his writing and some of his parodies, like his send up of Hemingway heroes and colonialists though his cartoony, buffoony main character, his parodies of African culture just felt racist to me. Couldn't get more than half way through. ( )
  badube | Mar 6, 2019 |
One of the best first chapters ever. ( )
  AaronJacobs | Oct 23, 2018 |
This being my first experience reading Saul Bellow, I didn’t know quite what to expect. But the outlook was hopeful knowing "Henderson the Rain King" is number 21 on Modern Library’s list of best 100 novels ever written.

One can glean as much or as little as they wish from this eclectic tale. Bellow provides a lot of food for thought- but aside from all the philosophical musings and psychological elements- there is an intense plot within his adventurous story.

The tale is told by Henderson himself… a rather non-likable character. He’s arrogant, egotistical, rude and intentionally thoughtless. In other words… he’s a jerk. A pompous ass to be certain. He’s living on inherited wealth, farming pigs for a hobby… mostly because it amuses him to annoy the neighbors with pigs running around the yard. He’s a war veteran, has a troubled (second) marriage, and is disappointed in his children. In a nutshell, he’s bored and dissatisfied with his life.

At the onset of the novel, Henderson decides impulsively that he needs to get as far away as possible to work out his feelings and make some sense of his unfulfilled life. Not that he blames anyone for his ennui. He just feels the need to grow, spiritually and emotionally… and perhaps break his lifelong spell of bad luck.

Henderson’s adventure leads him to a remote village in Africa where he quickly manages to offend, upset, and distress the primitive natives. And that leads him even further into the bush to a second, even more remote, more primitive village where he receives life’s ultimate test.

At times "Henderson the Rain King" reads like a Stephen King horror story. The reader is carried along through unimaginable scenes of mysterious events, and life threatening occult religious ceremonies.

The reader gets the distinct impression that Henderson does not have a sense of humor. Yet there are many downright funny one-liners and undertones of subtle humor throughout the story that create an odd combination with the sheer terror Henderson continually experiences.

Henderson is a man’s man and "Henderson the Rain King" is a tough, macho guy’s type of novel- the kind of book my deceased Dad and my Uncle Ralph would have loved. However, even I… pretty much a girlie-girl… thoroughly appreciate Bellow’s finely crafted storytelling. ( )
  LadyLo | Apr 10, 2018 |
Henderson is a man obsessed with himself and his wants. He leaves his family and heads to Africa to find something to fill the void. He bumbles along, obsessing all the while, until he winds up with the Wairi tribe and is befriended by the King. The King has his own set of issues and the two become very close. Of course a crisis develops and Henderson finds himself in danger. Ultimately he heads home to his family for whom he's finally discovered a need. All the madness in Henderson's head made me crazy. It explained his actions, but was just too much. The book might have been better had it been shorter. ( )
  LeslieHurd | Jan 11, 2017 |
White man goes to Africa... Henderson is a typical irritating American millionaire who travels to Africa possibly to find the meaning of his life. Interesting story with a bit old fashioned translation.... ( )
  TheCrow2 | Aug 2, 2016 |
Showing 1-5 of 45 (next | show all)
L. EUGENE HENDERSON, a multimillionaire by trade and a pathetic, swaggering clown by nature, reached an imaginary point of no return when he was 55 years old and felt that he had to go to Africa. His incessant follies, his alcoholism (he was often drunk before lunch) and his mordant discontent were more than he could bear. Henderson was “moody, rough, tyrannical and probably mad.” But he was bored. He was unhappy. Raising pigs, learning to play the violin, doing hard physical labor on his estate near Danbury--nothing could soothe his tedium vitae and general agony of spirit. Henderson was a champion sufferer, a fabulously strong giant of a man with a sentimental heart and no common sense whatever. He is the hero and narrator of “Henderson the Rain King,” a peculiar, prolix and exasperating novel by Saul Bellow.

Saul Bellow is a talented and ambitious writer best known for his “The Adventures of Augie March,” which was published six years ago. The comic extravaganza about the absurdities and trials of modern life was also written in the first person by a narrator a trifle touched in the head. But rhapsodic, tedious and stupefying as “Augie” often was, it was also intermittently funny and spangled with examples of Mr. Bellow’s richly inventive imagination. As much cannot be said for “Henderson the Rain King,” which is an unsuccessful experiment, noble in purpose but dismal in result.

Threefold Wellspring of Prose

"Henderson the Rain King" contains three major elements: grotesque comedy, which hardly ever seems comic; fantasy and adventure in Central Africa, an Africa deliberately distorted so far from reality that one half expects to meet Tarzan and his faithful Waziri on any page, and a solemn quest for “the great principles of life”--for spiritual peace, happiness and communion with truth and deity. All three elements are mixed thoroughly together, with Henderson writing a supercharged prose unlike anything ever recorded in print before, with conversations between. . . .

added by PLReader | editNY Times, ORVILLE PRESCOTT (Feb 23, 1959)

» Add other authors (19 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Saul Bellowprimary authorall editionscalculated
Bianciardi, LucianoTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Frenzel, Herbert A.Translatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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To my son, Gregory
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What made me take this trip to Africa? There is no quick explanation. Things got worse and worse and worse and pretty soon they were too complicated.
I want, I want
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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The spirited adventures of an eccentric American millionaire who finds a home in deepest Africa.

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Penguin Australia

An edition of this book was published by Penguin Australia.

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