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Saul Bellow's Heart: A Son's…

Saul Bellow's Heart: A Son's Memoir

by Greg Bellow

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It is perhaps safe to say that the work of Saul Bellow does not get the attention it deserves, as many people still feel that Saul Bellow deserves little or no attention. Bellow is a Nobel Prize Winner, but his work is barely read, and not included in school or university curricula. This is not based on demerit of the work, but of the man. Saul Bellow died somewhat quietly in 2005, his death received little attention, as in the past 25 years his work had received little attention. For the truth is that academia had spat him out.

The 1960s and 70s witnessed Bellow's multiple marriages and divorces, five marriages and four divorces, all as a consequence of his unbriddled hedonism. Then, in the 1980s he associated himself with the ideas of Alan Bloom and in the discussion about the cornerstones of civilization blurted out that Western culture has demonstrated itself to be superior, as Western culture has brought forth classical music, literature, etc, whereas Bellow claimed other cultures had not. Naturally, this type of racism and cultural bias were strobgly condemned in academic circles. Bellow was rowing against the tide, and met the full force of feminism, and left-oriented activism. He never recovered from deep-seated suspicion.

Critics and great, contemporary authors agree that the work of Saul Bellow belongs to the greatest among Twentieth Century literature. Bellow seems to have had the bad luck of standing in the spotlight at the wrong time. He won the Nobel Prize in 1976. Surely, there must have been writers with an equally bad track record in their relations with women, for instance Hemingway, or, more recently V.S. Naipaul, but they were never criticized that severely.

As a result, a full appreciation of Bellow's work has not (yet) taken place. There is only a modest amount of critical literature, and a full biography, Bellow: A Biography by James Atlas only came out in 2012, but has received very little attention so far. Another interesting publication, also in 2012, are Saul Bellow: Letters, edited by Ben Taylor. In addition to these, several memoirs have been published, some by the children of Saul Bellow.

One of these memoirs, Saul Bellow's heart. A son's memoir was written by Bellow's oldest son, from his first marriage, Greg Bellow. As the title suggests, not the work, but the man takes central stage in this memoir, and in line with his profession, Greg Bellow is not concerned about his father's soul, but his father's heart. This concern for the heart is somewhat troubling. Early in the memoir, Greg Bellow writes that his book is not an academic work, but aims to be a personal memoir. The author also claims to have waited long, and hesitated, but felt he still had a valuable contribution to make.

Saul Bellow's heart. A son's memoir, Greg describes how the young Saul Bellow was an idealistic and cheerful person, while the older Saul Bellow became a grumpy, and pessimistic person. As can be expected, the author does not draw a sharp line of division. Saul Bellow was born in 1915, this year exactly 100 years ago. That means that in 1976, he was 61 years old, and his sexual escapades took place in the decades before, and after that. Not a very convincing construct.

Greg Bellow does not claim any academic objectivity. In fact, the author is much too involved with his subject. Greg Bellow has a considerable chip on his shoulder, and an Oedipus complex that fills out the room. Greg Bellow's professional career is that of a psychotherapist, but it is remarkable how little insight he apparently has in the undigested anger and disappointment he has in his father. The memoir is at least as much about Greg as about Saul.

However, the angry Greg does provide the reader with an honest picture of Saul, the man, and given the biographical history of Saul Bellow that may just be needed. Besides the biography of Bellow and a detailed description of the various marriages, Greg Bellow describes Saul's life and the creation of his various works. Therefore, at about 240 pages, Saul Bellow's heart. A son's memoir is a reasonably sizeable biography of Saul Bellow. ( )
2 vote edwinbcn | Feb 14, 2015 |
I enjoyed this biography of Saul Bellow. Greg Bellow brings the reader behind the scenes, showing how Saul's life events portrayed in characters like Henderson, Herzog, etc. He also presents a candid look at relationships, especially regarding how they evolve over the years. ( )
  krin5292 | Dec 15, 2014 |
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Saul Bellow, the famous but fiercely private Nobel Prize winner, was known to be quick to anger and prone to argument, but he shared a tender bond with Greg, his firstborn. In this warm, affectionate, yet strikingly honest memoir, Greg Bellow offers a unique look inside the life of his father, one of America's greatest twentieth-century writers.… (more)

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