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Herzog by Saul Bellow

Herzog (1964)

by Saul Bellow

Other authors: See the other authors section.

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
4,367541,784 (3.69)159
Winner of the National Book Award when it was first published in 1964, Herzog traces five days in the life of a failed academic whose wife has recently left him for his best friend. Through the device of letter writing, Herzog movingly portrays both the internal life of its eponymous hero and the complexity of modern consciousness. Like the protagonists of most of Bellow's novels Dangling Man, The Victim, Seize the Day, Henderson the Rain King, etc. Herzog is a man seeking balance, trying to regain a foothold on his life. Thrown out of his ex-wife's house, he retreats to his abandoned home in Ludeyville, a remote village in the Berkshire mountains to which Herzog had previously moved his wife and friends. Here amid the dust and vermin of the disused house, Herzog begins scribbling letters to family, friends, lovers, colleagues, enemies, dead philosophers, ex- Presidents, to anyone with whom he feels compelled to set the record straight. The letters, we learn, are never sent. They are a means to cure himself of the immense psychic strain of his failed second marriage, a method by which he can recognize truths that will free him to love others and to learn to abide with the knowledge of death. In order to do so he must confront the fact that he has been a bad husband, a loving but poor father, an ungrateful child, a distant brother, an egoist to friends, and an apathetic citizen. Herzog is primarily a novel of redemption. For all of its innovative techniques and brilliant comedy, it tells one of the oldest of stories. Like The Divine Comedy or the dark night of the soul of St. John of the Cross, it progresses from darkness to light, from ignorance to enlightenment. Today it is still considered one of the greatest literary expressions of postwar America.… (more)
  1. 40
    The Trial by Franz Kafka (SanctiSpiritus)
  2. 20
    Steppenwolf by Hermann Hesse (roby72)
  3. 10
    Seize the Day by Saul Bellow (SanctiSpiritus)
  4. 21
    Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky (SanctiSpiritus)
  5. 00
    Fury by Salman Rushdie (thorold)
    thorold: Rushdie's Fury is an ironic 21st century take on the professor-as-victim theme, with a whole string of references back to Herzog.
  6. 00
    La coscienza di Zeno by Italo Svevo (roby72)

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» See also 159 mentions

English (47)  Italian (3)  Dutch (2)  French (1)  Spanish (1)  All languages (54)
Showing 1-5 of 47 (next | show all)
Too much navel-gazing for my blood. Perhaps I've read too many of these kinds of books of late. ( )
  slmr4242 | Oct 16, 2019 |
Life is too short to be this bored reading a book. ( )
  carliwi | Sep 23, 2019 |
I did not particularly like this book. It was interesting as far as the language was concerned: Jiddish parts, accents that were well performed by the narrator. But the story itself? I'm not sure. To me it seemed to lead nowhere. Lamentations on lost wives, children, things that were going wrong, mental (or real) letters written to 'write it off'. I have the feeling that at the end of the book Herzog is (apart from having a conversation about a (mental) hospital at the same point where he was when the book started. ( )
  BoekenTrol71 | Feb 6, 2019 |
A Jewish intellectual rages in unsent letters at the shortcomings of his acquaintances and his peers as a method of remaining calm and sane during his brutal second divorce. I wasn’t always enraptured with the novel, for what I thought was going to be a metafictional deconstruction of the modern world turned out instead to be a realistic psychological novel. But I only got mildly irritated in places, never truly vexed, for the details churning in poor Herzog’s mind were colorful and fascinating. I enjoyed them in a voyeuristic manner, for I always suspect that Bellow, like Roth, was drawing on his own disastrous experiences with women. If nothing else, I made me feel smug with how I have lived my life.

Malcolm Hillgartner adapted his booming American voice to a variety of female, Jewish, and even African American accents well enough to be believable without being stereotypical. I was as surprised as I was pleased, for I was very disappointed in my other experience of him; i.e. his inability to create an appropriate atmosphere for his readings of Lovecraft. ( )
  Coach_of_Alva | Nov 23, 2018 |
Excerpts from my original GR review (Apr 2009):
- [I read this in 2001]
- I'm not Jewish, not divorced, and generally eschew intellectuals, but I really liked this book. Herzog's letter writing obsession covers all kinds of philosophical ranting. Bellow has created a memorable character who is listing badly on the sea of sanity, but who seems almost to revel in it. From his exchanges with friend Shapiro, his rumination about his Russian jew parents, to his temporary infatuation with Ramona, Herzog searches for solace which forever evades him.
- Though often intense the story to me always has a comic element bubbling just under the surface... Saul Bellow, a true literary talent, who died in 2005 at 89.

"Alone, alone, alone, alone
Solitary as a stone
With my ten fingers-alone." ( )
  ThoughtPolice | May 9, 2018 |
Showing 1-5 of 47 (next | show all)
Anybody who has gotten some distance from a heartbreak’s wickedest throes, and wants to understand it, and wants to feel again the vibrancy of mind that made love possible in the first place, should read... Herzog.
A masterpiece... Herzog's voice... for all its wildness and strangeness and foolishness is the voice of a civilization, our civilization... The book is new and classic, and its publicaiton now... suggests that things are looking up for America and its civilization.
added by GYKM | editThe New York Times Book Review, Julian Moynahan
With this new work, his sixth novel, Saul Bellow emerges not only as the most intelligent novelist of his generation but also as the most consistently interesting in the point of growth and development. To my mind, too, he is the finest stylist at present writing fiction in America.
added by GYKM | editBook Week, Philip Rahv
A novel that is certain to be talked about and written about for a long time to come, Herzog reinforces my conviction that Bellow is the leading figure in American fiction today.
added by GYKM | editSaturday Review, Granville Hicks

» Add other authors (38 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Bellow, Saulprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Vreede, Mischa deTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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To Pat Covici, a great editor and, better yet, a generous friend, this book is affectionately dedicated
First words
If I am out of my mind, it's all right with me, thought Moses Herzog.
The transformation of the novelist who published Dangling Man in 1944 and The Victim in 1947 into the novelist who published The Adventures of Augie March in '53 is revolutionary. (Introduction)
"Why to get laid is actually socially constructive and useful, an act of citizenship."
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Herzog is a massive accomplishment that has repeatedly been likened to Joyce’s Ulysses. It remains Bellow’s “biggest” book and was on the New York Times best-seller list for the entire year. At its heart is Bellow’s profound shock at discovering, a year after his separation from Sondra, (Alexandra Tschacbasov, his second wife) her affair with their mutual friend, Jack Ludwig. The last of their circle to know he had been deceived, Bellow lapsed into deep depression and produced an intensely self-justifying hero who was tearful, cuckolded, and utterly humiliated. Moses Herzog, a Jewish intellectual is essentially precipitated into intellectual and spiritual crisis by the failure of his marriage. The plot of the novel is slender. Herzog leaves his home and marriage, fails in the classroom, abandons his academic project, and undertakes a massive spiritual and intellectual housekeeping via the production of dozens of letters to God, the long dead, the recent, dead, and the living. At the end of it he seems to have regained his sense of Jewish identity, purged himself of violent anger, abandoned his latest mistresses, and his repented of his dandyism. He has had a profound education in the realities of human nature, and rediscovered the value of nature and solitude on his Ludeyville estate. No longer the Graf Potocki of the Berkshires, both he and the estate seem to be reverting to some less pretentious earlier natural condition. After being in constant motion physically and mentally for the most part of the novel, he is finally seen at rest in a hammock, contemplating the night sky.
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An edition of this book was published by Penguin Australia.

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