Saul Bellow's parents emigrated from Russia in 1913, and Bellow's early years vividly reflect the Jewish immigrant experience in America. His boyhood in Montreal and Chicago, marked by his family's transient existence and struggle for economic survival, would later inspire many characters and scenes in Bellow's fiction. It was at the University of Chicago that he began to come into his own, discovered his unique voice, and encountered many of the writers and intellectuals who would populate his writing life. Atlas chronicles Bellow's personal adventures and literary career against the rich social and cultural background of the times, as between 1944 and 1976, Bellow wrote such modern classics as The Adventures of Augie March, Seize the Day, Henderson the Rain King, Herzog, and Humboldt'S Gift, which won the Pulitzer Prize. He also won the National Book Award three times, and in 1976, the Nobel Prize for literature. Five volatile marriages, many other tempestuous relationships with women, intellectuals, publishers and friends -- ""Bellow"": A Biography is a magnificent portrait of the life and times of a writer generally considered one of the premier writers in the English language.
Long promised and much postponed, this first major biography of the Nobel Prize-winning author proves to be well worth the wait. Atlas's vigorous and incisive portrait grows out of thorough research and intuitive understanding, yielding a sharp-edged provocative portrait. Born in 1915 in a small town near Montreal, Solomon (later Saul) Bellow, the youngest son of Russian Jewish immigrants, was nine years old when his family settled in Chicago. Capturing succinctly the drab but vital essence of the Jewish neighborhood of Humboldt Park, destined to be the touchstone of Bellow's fiction, Atlas charts Bellow's book-obsessed boyhood, his fraught relationships with his overbearing father and older brothers, and the death of his mother just after his graduation from high school. But when Bellow settles down seriously to become a writer, the biography finds its center. Atlas's depiction of Bellow's haphazard, self-absorbed personal life - his five marriages, his four children, his many lover, his wandering progress from Chicago to New York to Europe to various college campuses and back again - is tart yet sympathetic. He is at his best in describing Bellow's development as a writer and intellectual. Friendships and rivalries - with high school friend Isaac Rosenfeld, the Partisan Review crowd, Allan Bloom at the University of Chicago - and the polemics and passions of postwar literary America spur on the prolific Bellow. His first, more cerebral novels were followed by the sprawling, exuberant Adventures of Augie March, then by his three triumphant H-novels - Henderson the Rain King, Herzog, Humboldt's Gift - among others. From here on in, the business of celebrity and the gradual narrowing of Bellow's vision occupy Atlas; he has a gimlet eye for the ravages of time and fame. This is an accomplished, compassionate but unsentimental life. Agent Jeff Posternak, Wylie Agency. 6-city author tour. (Oct.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
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February 05, 2002
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