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 earn 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.
As an added bonus, when you purchase any of our Audible Modern Vanguard productions of Saul Bellow's books, you'll also get an exclusive Jim Atlas interview added to your library.
This production is part of our Audible Modern Vanguard line, a collection of important works from groundbreaking authors.
©1959 Saul Bellow; (P)2009 Audible, Inc.
"A kind of wildly delirious dream made real by the force of Bellow's rollicking prose and the offbeat inventiveness of his language." (Chicago Tribune)
This is one of my favorite books and one of my favorite audiobooks. It was also Bellow's own favorite among the books he had written. The Modern Library lists it as number 21 of the 100 all time best novels. Such a shame that it's so little known!
Eugene Henderson is rich, middle-aged, and a man of great physical strength who views himself as an utter failure. He can't escape the voice he hears crying out incessantly within him: I want ... I want ... . The problem is, he can't figure out what it is he wants! So off he goes to Africa (maybe he can find out there) where he winds up being anointed the Rain King in a remote village.
The book is absolutely astonishing in its inventiveness and creativity. It is at once philosophical, gripping and hilarious. Henderson is one of the most memorable characters I have ever had the good pleasure of meeting in literature. I was laughing out loud with sheer joy throughout the book.
Joe Barret establishes himself as one of the very best audio readers ever with this recording in my opinion (and I've listened to a lot of audiobooks over the past 25 years!) I've heard Joe Barret do Bonfire of the Vanities and also a Paul Auster novel, but here he outdoes himself. Mr. Barret virtually becomes Henderson. The man should get an award for this reading!!
Years ago I came across an abridged audio version narrated by Tom Skerrit and have been hoping for an unabridged version ever since. Thanks to Audible's Modern Vanguard Series for making it happen.
This a wonderful and inventive, fish out of water, African adventure. The novel is filled with humor and is uniquely personalized as it is told in a self deprecating, first person narrative, by a huge, middle aged man, who is keenly aware of his many faults and potential for gaffes but who can't resist seizing the moment in his huge hands and wringing everything he can from it. The choice of Joe Barrett as narrator and the style of Barrett's delivery is inspired.
Anything read by Joe Barrett automatically makes the book better. This is an insightfull story of one mans personal journey to 'be'. Full of enlightened understand of his own faults and limitations Henderson critics his growth and maturation.
Well written. Would read again from this author.
Bellow is a thinker, and the story seems to be a platform for his ideas. That could leave you flat if Henderson wasn't such an excellent character. His travels in Africa and conversations with the few people that become his friends are really the life of the book. A few exciting sequences, but mostly an examination of life.
The reader does a great job. The voice he uses for Henderson is a very specific character choice, so much so that it puts the entire book in a certain context. I was left wondering if Henderson would have been a different man in my mind had I heard a flat reading or actually read the book.
I adored this book. Joe Barrett put an awful lot into this and is incredibly consistent in his vocal characterization of the various characters. This is my first Bellow book, so others who have already been initiated will know how I felt. I was so refreshed, invigorated and moved - in many directions. Some of the philosophizing did go over my head, but it was always enjoyable, and Bellow is amazing at pacing things for the reader. I didn't realize how funny he was - for some reason I didn't pick that up in the reviews I read before buying this. But as well as laughing, roaring I should say, out loud I choked up on several occasions. I'm so excited at discovering Bellow, and I'm going straight ahead and plunging into the next one now! Don't hesitate, I just can't imagine how you won't enjoy it!
A pure pleasure to listen to; Barrett does a pitch perfect job with the title character and the multiple voices. It's a wildly strange and funny book, and Barrett captures every nuance.
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