July 10, 1915 - April 05, 2005
Saul Bellow (born Solomon Bellows) was a famous American writer, considered one of the XX century greatest and most influential authors, best known for The Adventures of Augie March, Herzog, Seize the Day, Humboldt's Gift. He is a receiver of the Pulitzer Prize, the Nobel Prize for Literature, and the National Medal of Arts.
Saul Bellow – The Titan From The Ghetto
Saul Bellow was born in Lachine, Quebec (Canada), only two years after his parents, Lescha and Abraham Bellows, came to America from Saint Petersburg, Russian Empire. During the immigration process, the family changed their original Belous (Russian: Белоус) last name to the more conventional Bellows. Later, in 1936, the writer changed both his name and surname.
The family used to belong to a privileged society back in the old country, with numerous servants in their home and a dacha in the picturesque suburbs of Saint Petersburg. In America, they had to start from zero, taking up jobs like cooking, mending, washing, or even bootlegging! This had a strong influence on Saul's worldview and was clearly reflected in his works; most of his early life Bellow was a convinced Trotskyist, mixing with the most radical of left-leaning American politicians and even trying to meet Trotsky in Mexico-city just one day before the exiled Communist leader was assassinated by his former colleagues.
In his early childhood, Saul suffered from serious respiratory conditions, which, ironically, would prove to be of great service for him in his later life.He had to stay in his room for long periods of time and took interest in reading; also, having grown up, Saul did his best to be in good physical form.
The teenage Saul rebelled against his parents who wanted him to become a rabbi or a professional musician, and started writing. By that time the family had moved to Chicago, to one of the most criminal neighborhoods of the city. Later, he would always choose the poor neighborhoods to live - for creative inspiration. Saul enrolled into University of Chicago and later transfer to Northwestern University. Originally, he wanted to study literature, but felt that the English department was anti-Jewish and chose anthropology and sociology, graduating with honors.
When World War II broke out, he joined the US merchant marine, and during one of the voyages wrote his first novel, the Dangling Man (1944). After the war he started teaching at the University if Minnesota, and 1948 received Guggenheim Fellowship, which allowed him to move to Paris, where he wrote his most famous work, the iconic The Adventures of Augie March (1953). Later, while teaching sociology in Chicago, he wrote Herzog (1964), the book that hit the bestseller list and was an astounding commercial success. Interestingly, the success of Herzog led to a considerable increase of the public's interest in his earlier books and, consequently, in their sales.
His fourth novel, Humboldt's Gift (1975), brought him the Nobel Prize in literature and firmly established him as one of the most influential writers of the last quarter of the XX century. Some even considered Saul Below and William Faulkner to be "the backbone of American literature"!
Life experiences led Bellow to move away from his earlier leftist political views and start to identify himself with cultural conservatism, opposing feminism, campus activism and postmodernism.
Bellow even started a row when, commenting on multiculturalism, he asked: "Who is the Tolstoy of the Zulus? The Proust of the Papuans? I'd be glad to read him".
Bellow was married five times, with each of the marriages but the las ending in divorce. He had four children, including daughter Rosie, who was born when he was 84! The writer died 5 April 2005 in his home in Brookline, Massachusetts.
Christopher Hitchens, "Saul Bellow: The Great Assimilator", Atlantic Books, 2011
"Jewish American titan from the ghetto" By Christopher Hitchens, 30 December 30, 2011
Saul Bellow, It All Adds Up (Penguin, 2007)