Summoning a deluge from the sky, building an explosive to rid a pond of frogs, forging an intimate bond with a powerful lion these are just some of the actions undertaken in Africa by the title character in Saul Bellow's astounding, inventive novel Henderson The Rain King.
Winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature and a titan of 20th-century American fiction, Bellow belongs to a select group of skilled American novelists (with John Updike and Philip Roth) best known for their precise examinations of middle-aged, middle-class men yearning for more out of life than two cars or two houses. Bellow's title character in Henderson harbors the same, ceaseless hunger for life, manifested in a voice inside him which cries out day in and day out, "I want, I want, I want." But while Roth and Updike's characters rarely stray far from America's northeast corridor, the voice inside Eugene Henderson compels him to travel to remote corners of civilization in Africa.
A brief summary of the novel's plot sounds preposterous: a middle-aged millionaire travels to Africa, where he becomes The Rain King. But Bellow manages to make such a seemingly far-fetched story sound believable one sentence at a time.
And narrator Joe Barrett's grizzled voice is perfect for bringing to life Henderson's unique perspective and tone. In the beginning, Henderson is like one of those pushy, half-drunk loudmouths you can't wait to get away from in line at an airline counter. Listening to Barrett squawk Henderson's wisecracks and American slang in Africa initially gives the book an absurd, humorous quality. But as this fable-like novel progresses, Henderson gradually and plausibly evolves into a God-like figure. Barrett makes the dramatic transformation, as well as the entirety of Henderson's mad-cap journey, sound realistic. -Ken Ross
Bellow evokes all the rich colour and exotic customs of a highly imaginary Africa in this comic novel about a middle-aged American millionaire who, seeking a new, more rewarding life, descends upon an African tribe. Henderson's awesome feats of strength and his unbridled passion for life earns him the admiration of the tribe - but it is his gift for making rain that turns him from mere hero into messiah.
A hilarious, often ribald story, Henderson the Rain King is also a profound look at the forces that drive a man through life.
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©1959 Saul Bellow; (P)2009 Audible, Inc.
Business Physicist and Astronomer
I hate to write a trite review about a great book so I won't. I won't recap the story.
I will say that if you are male and have 40+ years under your belt, you will enjoy and be deeply touched by this incredible book. All others? You probably like it, maybe a lot.
This, I believe, is a book men need to read. And women? You'll get the inside scoop on the male psyche.
Don't miss this masterpiece.
Many of us read Henderson when we were in our Modern Literature courses in college and my recollection was sketchy and an outline of the book, if that, from my 20's. As an adult who has gone through life transitions, I wish I had read Henderson a decade ago in my 50's, when I was searching, like we all do, for some type of affirmation of my life or, lacking that, try another journey. The book is wonderful in all regards - a huge and compelling metaphor for aging, anxiety, humor as a weapon, self-doubt coupled with a desire for....."I want, I WANT". Henderson is a great read with a great performance and, in the highest form of flattering I can offer, made me go out to order the book so I can underline all the parts and phrases I loved and want to remember. Just terrific. The voices will live in my head forever.
I am an Australian woman who enjoys reading many different styles of books, from history to sci fi and mystery to poetry.
I enjoyed some parts of this story but it all got a little Munchhausen for me and I have read enough of that genre and certainly many better than this. But if you haven't you may enjoy this.
"A new favourite"
I hadn't heard of this book, which I now find is on several 'best of ..' lists. And what a treat! It will be my 'desert island' book having comedy, adventure, thoughtfulness and joy. Its wonderful to be old and have your prejudices turned over. During the course of the book I moved from antibodies to the protagonist to recognising him as a force of nature.
And wonderfully read by Joe Barrett.
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