©1949 Saul Bellow; (P)1993 Blackstone Audio, Inc.
"... there are times when silence is a poem." - John Fowles, the Magus ^(;,;)^
I knew from the first couple paragraphs of this novel that it was fantastic, amazing, like a well-built Italian or German sports car. However, once Bellow jumps into Augie's flight to Mexico with Thea (where they try to to catch Mexican lizards with a wussy eagle) it was equivalent to discovering the sports car you are driving actually has 7 gears and your radio goes to 11. Anyway, this is one of those books where sentences seem likely to escape the gravity of English, the characters are as big as planets, and the plot is as big as Eternity or at least the Universe or at least that part of the Universe visible from Chicago.
I have read this over and over and now I can listen to it.
The characters are all interesting and knowable, but the thing about it is the language.
The rich rich American language. The descriptions of things and places and people and emotions and confusions are all-encompassing. There is no book you ever get inside of like you get inside of this one.
Saul Bellow was a great writer, and I've enjoyed all his books, especially "The Dean's December," but this is his youthful outpouring, just a flood of words and characters and situations, each as engaging as the last.
My favorite. All-time.
I'm a 60 yr old former English major and grad student. It's been fascinating revisiting the books I studied in my 20s, read aloud to me.
What a fabulous novel, and so well read by Tom Parker. I ended up buying the book as well, to reread some chapters and have the opportunity to ponder the philosophical musings expressed by the various vivid characters in this story. I found myself thinking of Dickens so often as I was listening to and reading this novel--the rich teeming life of a city, the wildly improbable yet wholly believable one-of-a-kind characters, the comic antics, the sorrow, the crazy business of living and trying to find any meaning in it at all. I've been listening to lots of Dickens on Audible, and now I'll add Bellow to my wish list. These are great books to listen to and live with, and think about long after you've read or heard the last word. One line I love from Augie's tale: "I refuse to live a disappointed life."
This is a really peculiar book, a very American picaresque bildungsroman, about a young Jewish man growing up in Depression Era Chicago and traveling a bit - to Mexico. What makes it peculiar is that Augie just seems to tumble from one escapade to another always managing to land on his feet and continue the journey. He goes from one group of people to another, one woman to the next, times of money and no money, etc. His basic employment seems to be that of book thief, but he's open to much of what comes along although some troubles he just lands in though his own life mismanagement. His survival skills, physical, emotional and material, are certainly well-honed. The message seems to be that "Local boy can never quite get it together and stays lost."
A lot of it is quite funny and Augie is certainly an engaging protagonist. Bellow is an excellent stylist and the dialogue is top-notch. The reader, Tom Parker, was a bit irritating at first but after I got used to it his voice was perfect - the accent of young Chicago 50 years ago.
To some friends only -- those who are into literary fiction that has no real plot. I would recommend it to persons who revel in language and turns of a good phrase, to people who are so well educated as to "get" all the references, allusions and "inside" jokes. I would not recommend it to a traveler needing a long read. I gave it to my son for a trip to London and he gave up after 20 pp. It's a tough sell, this book. It is based in Chicago (mostly). It is about a boy growing up and how he makes his choices and finds a way to live a life that is not a disappointment. But Augie's telling of it (1st person) is so tedious, so drawn out that even at the end I could not champion the boy's overcomings. Few (1 or 2) characters were interesting and memorable -- and Augie is NOT one of them. Some of the episodes of his life were interesting. none was laugh out loud or tear-jerking.
By the end, I believe Bellow summoned up every "great" book ever written -- and he managed to incorporate no less than Don Quijote de La Mancha, Frankenstein, Robinson Crusoe and a hundred other ancient texts and parables as well.
I felt as if I was watching as Bellow trotted out his lofty education, as if he wanted the reader to know he had "made it." I am not speaking of Augie March, but of the author himself.
I cannot understand how this was a Nobel winner. Yes, it details the life of a young Jewish American boy, and it underscores the myths of what makes a life, but really, it's just too tedious. Augie's sufferings are minor, his joys are diluted, his fears are tepid, his actions are null -- if action is what you call his responses.
So, what was good about it? Language, references to those arcane texts (if you're into the scholarly stuff). Unbelievably, there were no dates of any sort. No placement on the timeline, though all the literature says it starts in Depression era Chicago. We can surmise through the aging of the characters that it ends in the late 50s, early 1960s, but not sure. Perhaps this is Bellow's idea of making it an everyman bildungsroman that could land in any era, but I found it inaccessible.
Am I glad I read it? Yes... another notch on the bookshelf.. I feel I accomplished a great feat by finishing it and trying hard to exact some value from it.
Recommend it? Yes, with the qualifications stated above.
Clarity, emotion (where none was in the text), apparent effort to make us care about the characters who were white-washed and stiff.
Some thoughts of Augie's are very deep and profound. It will cause me to go back to my highlighted passages (Kindle and Audible) because they did resonate with me and I felt some of the philosphies applied to me.
Taking on this text requires a dedication that may work best in intervals. It is valuable because it is part of the canon of American literature. As for being a Chicago-based book.. I don't think so. There are about 4-5 chapters that transpire in Mexico, some more in Paris, and others in New York. Except for Augie's propensity to deal in certain illicit activities (and that's not specific to Chicago either), Chicago is only mentioned in wistful reminiscences or references to where characters hang out, get the streetcar, go and party, etc.
I expected more ethnicity out of this Chicago born Jewish writer. It just was not there. Adjust your expectations and it will be fine.
Business Physicist and Astronomer
This book is like On the Road: The Original Scroll - Jack Kerouac. Tone it down a bit and you've got a pretty similar story. In fact, I'd be very surprised if there wasn't an influence of one upon the other though I couldn't specify the direction of flow.
If you haven't experienced Bellow, I'd start with Henderson the Rain King. This book is brilliant but might drag on you if you're not used to the style. Bellow gives a little story and then injects a bit of philosophy or insight. These sparks are beautiful, like having your way lit through a wooded path in the night with the flicking of a lighter that never lights. But that's not a criticism, it's the bright flashes that give snap shots that a steady lighting would only blur.
And there it is. You get this series of flashes of this guy's life. It's a wonderful, flawless romp.
I loved every minute.
My interests run to psychology, popular science, history, world literature, and occasionally something fun like Jasper Fforde. It seems like the only free time I have for reading these days is when I'm in the car so I am extremely grateful for audio books. I started off reading just the contemporary stuff that I was determined not to clutter up my already stuffed bookcases with. And now audio is probably 90% of my "reading" matter.
I know I'm on dangerous ground criticizing a classic like this, but I really liked the growing up years better than the adult years in this book. Partly I guess that's because it was like a window into the world of my grandparents, partly because the adult Augie just seemed too wishy-washy about taking charge of his own life. Not that that's unusual but it makes for a mixed bag as far as literature is concerned. I did love the narrator's voice throughout. I miss the big city accents out here on the west coast. For that matter, I love Saul Bellow's 'voice' throughout. He is a keen observer of humanity and his characters are always interesting even when they're annoying or aggravating or just being stupid.
Maybe I can't get my Aussie/Scottish brain around this dialect, but I found this read far too fast. There appeared to be some delicious prose in the text, but it was delivered way with an accent I was unfamiliar with and at a very fast rate. Wish I had bought the book. Definitely one to read and chew over at your own pace.
saul bellow was one of the masterful writers of the 20th century. lesser known than jack kerouac, but equally as talented and this is his greatest achievement.
"Did Feminism Liberate Men?"
There are two aspects to this book that are very stark to the modern reader. The first has to include a tribute to its author Saul Bellow's talent for compelling the reader at all times to think. Every paragraph is punctuated with wonderful insights into the human condition.
The second aspect probably only seems obvious to modern eyes with their qualification of contemporary political and social condescension.
For the awful truth is that Augie is not a likable character despite him having been written in that genre that compels the reader to find him somehow agreeable and beguiling. Ditto his family.
To the modern reader however, his needy and selfish materialism never at any stage leads to feelings of remorse or guilt and one is compelled to ask is this actually how men thought before the actuality of feminism and was this at any stage acceptable to men, so demeaning is it by today's standards.
If it were, then as a man, I owe more to the suffragettes and the 1960's feminism than I could have imagined.
But it is a decent enough book for all that despite a few "as if" moments. (It is truly remarkable how often you can bump into people you know on a continent the size of America, and that includes hidden parts of Mexico). The enjoyable parts are Bellow's lyrical flourishes and they certainly abound here.
Samuel Johnson once said of the Giants Causeway on the north coast of Ireland that it was worth seeing but not worth going to see. On making my final assault onto the upper slopes of The Adventures of Augie March I have to say I felt pretty much the same way.
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