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Humboldt's Gift by Saul Bellow

Humboldt's Gift (1975)

by Saul Bellow

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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2,396324,036 (3.82)94
Charlie Citrine, suffering from steadily worsening troubles with women, career, and life in general, receives unexpected aid and comfort in the form of a belated bequest from his onetime friend and mentor, the poet Von Humboldt Fleisher.
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English (28)  Dutch (2)  All (1)  All languages (31)
Showing 1-5 of 28 (next | show all)
This was definitely not my favorite "classic". There are interesting characters, big city alienation and philosophical meditations galore. However, the book really bogged down in places, for me. ( )
  Brauer11431 | Apr 16, 2019 |
3.5 stars
( )
  AaronJacobs | Oct 23, 2018 |
“He was meddling, just meddling. Still, I took this to heart. For there was a lot of agony in Demmie. Some women wept as softly as a watering can in the garden. Demmie cried passionately, as only a woman who believes in sin can cry. When she cried you not only pitied her, you respected her strength of soul.”

There is an astonishingly short page on Wikipedia to this book that had won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1976 and is cited on that website as having “contributed to Bellow's winning the Nobel Prize in Literature the same year”. Then follow two minor paragraphs devoted to plot and two sentences to its reception. This book is four-hundred and ninety-four pages and probably had me consulting the computer for references as many times. It’s dense. It’s funny. The two main characters suffer from honesty every bit as painful as their introspection is myopic. Or maybe not. Maybe somewhere in that anthroposophical ether that clouds Charlie Citrine like bad weather, despite his flight toward whatever exotic locale he secretes himself, whatever room or hotel or Russian bathhouse stall, stretched on a couch or crushed between dubious characters on a Thunderbird’s bench seat, Seraphim and Cherubim and Exousiai and Archai fist-fighting in the jet streams of his skull, there’s an acceptance of the limitations of the material world and yet a clear-eyed glimpse of a realm beyond. Even Humboldt’s posthumous “gift” is maybe more trouble than it’s worth. As, maybe, is all life. And that’s at least the fourth time I’ve waffled with that adverb.

Chicago may be the bedrock to this sprawling work, and it is populated with some of the tropes synonymous with that city: gangsters, architecture, restaurants, the old country in the New World. But the world of the mind is the real domain here; wedded to the basest of our human natures. And so we have poets in rural New Jersey trying to mow down their wives with Buicks, low-level thugs horning in on copyright lawyers, Chicagoan entrepreneurs hunting for beryllium in Nairobi, huckster journalists making a buck off their own abduction in South America; and none of these events seem grand enough to fill the space left from the conversations with his departed mentor and friend.

Maybe the gift is more than an object, an heirloom, a sealed letter from the past. It could be nothing more than that moment when he learned to live in the middle of the material and spiritual worlds. How fleeting that moment. And yet, the recollection can seem to last forever when stretched out on the couch, away from the clamor and clangor of Chicago, removed from the clash of new toys in old worlds, some far country yet unclaimed since it hasn’t even been marked on a map.

Or Charlie Citrine could just be a selfish prick. But at least he knows it. And he’s got the perfect escape. Like another Appleton native, Harry Houdini, who’d travelled to the biggest cities to break free from handcuffs, straightjackets and milk cans—all self-imposed. Except Citrine didn’t share the magician’s obsession for debunking spiritualists, preferring instead a peaceful absorption.

And, to be fair, I’ve not totally gotten my head around “anthroposophy”. Certainly, enough for the context of the novel. But, just like that hovering hierarchy of angels, it may demand more research and a second read.

“In the enchanting days we had had such marvelous talks, only touched a little by manic depression and paranoia. But now the light became dark and the dark turned darker.” ( )
  ToddSherman | Sep 12, 2017 |
It was a chore to get through this book of monologues, wild flights of fancy, tangents flying off in all directions, and wildly improbable plot lines. ( )
  ShelleyAlberta | Jun 4, 2016 |
Bellow gives us his unique perspective on growing up on an East Coast only people with his background can understand. ( )
  dbsovereign | Jan 26, 2016 |
Showing 1-5 of 28 (next | show all)

» Add other authors (38 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Saul Bellowprimary authorall editionscalculated
Paolini, Pier FrancescoTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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The book of ballads published by Von Humboldt Fleisher in the Thirties was an immediate hit.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Penguin Australia

An edition of this book was published by Penguin Australia.

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