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Humboldt's Gift [Hardcover]

Saul Bellow
4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (18 customer reviews)

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Book Description

6 Oct 1975 0436039508 978-0436039508 1st Edition
For many years, the great poet Von Humboldt Fleisher and Charlie Citrine, a young man inflamed with a love for literature, were the best of friends. At the time of his death, however, Humboldt is a failure, and Charlie's life has reached a low point: his career is at a standstill, and he's enmeshed in an acrimonious divorce, infatuated with a highly unsuitable young woman and involved with a neurotic mafioso. And then Humboldt acts from beyond the grave, bestowing upon Charlie an unexpected legacy that may just help him turn his life around.
--This text refers to the Paperback edition.


Product details

  • Hardcover: 536 pages
  • Publisher: Martin Secker & Warburg Ltd; 1st Edition edition (6 Oct 1975)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0436039508
  • ISBN-13: 978-0436039508
  • Product Dimensions: 22.4 x 15.5 x 4.1 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (18 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 504,528 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description

About the Author

Saul Bellow's dazzling career as a novelist has been marked with numerous literary prizes, including the 1976 Nobel Prize, and the Gold Medal for the Novel. His other books include Dangling Man, The Adventures of Augie March, Herzog, More Die of Heartbreak, Mosby's Memoirs and Other Stories, Mr Sammler's Planet, Seize The Day and The Victim. Saul Bellow died in 2005. --This text refers to the Paperback edition.

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
27 of 30 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Classic Worthy of the Name 29 Aug 2006
By Steve Keen TOP 1000 REVIEWER
Format:Mass Market Paperback|Verified Purchase
Around the time Bellow received the Nobel for this novel, he was the subject of my college dissertation. It was to be almost thirty years before I revisited Humboldt's Gift again as my inflight reading on a trip to the US, and when I did the experience was somewhat different.

First I noted the humour. I remembered its being an amusing book, but never as hilarious as I found it so many years on. I reflected on whether I had truly understood some of the references, and on how much more I identified with the book having travelled to some of the places mentioned - Texas, Chicago, New York, Madrid. The whole thing was so much less abstract, so I felt more able to immerse myself in the characterisation, without the need to expend energy trying to imagine what these places looked like.

It was the characterisation that really stood out, from the outwardly bullish but inwardly sheepish Charlie Citrine, and his scheming girlfriend Renata and her conspiratorial mother; the minor hoodlum Cantabile and his academic girlfriend Polly; and on to the tragic Humboldt himself, long deceased by the time of the book's opening but a constant, spectral presence throughout. Finally, the roguish Thaxter, Citrine's "business partner", a man who may well have inspired the leadership of Enron.

In addition, some of the vocabulary surprised me. For example, "leveraged". Had I registered the word back in the seventies? I guessed not. It's a word I'd associated with management consultants, financial derivatives and the eighties.
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Format:Paperback
This novel won a Pulitzer prize and contributed to Saul Bellow winning the Nobel Prize for literature many years ago. The novel charts the artistic relationship between Charlie Citrine, an economically successful writer, and his mentor Von Humboldt Fleisher - an alcoholic, mentally ill poet with aspirations to cultural and spiritual greatness. Von Humbolt is dead and Citrine is reflecting back on Von Humbolt’s aspirations. Meanwhile Citrine is being pestered and advised by a petty gangster called Cantabile and is also having to deal with his girlfriend and his ex-wife. Apparently Citrine represents Saul Bellow to some degree and Von Humbolt, again to some degree, represents Delmore Schwartz who, to me at least, is famous for having been a mentor of Lou Reed.

I read this novel because of a quotation from it that prefaces an excellent book by Stan Cohen and Laurie Taylor called “Escape Attempts: The Theory and Practice of Resistance to Everyday Life”. This is a quotation:

“For me the self-conscious ego is the seat of boredom. This increasing, swelling, domineering, painful self-consciousness is the only rival of the political and social powers that run my life (business, technological-bureaucratic powers, the state). You have a great organised movement of life, and you have a single self, independently conscious, proud of its detachment and its absolute immunity, its stability and its power to remain unaffected by anything whatsoever-by the sufferings of others or by society or by politics or by external chaos. In a way it doesn’t give a damn. It’s asked to give a damn, and we often urge it to give a damn but the curse of none caring lies upon this painfully free consciousness. It is free from attachment to beliefs and two other souls. Cosmologies, ethical systems?
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By Angus Jenkinson VINE VOICE
Format:Paperback
In one of the 20th-century masterpieces of literary fiction, a puzzled American genius, grizzled and passionate, on the edge of spiritual and erotic revelation, is hounded by old memories, lawyers, a disgruntled wife, financial troubles and manic characters. A charismatic second-rate hoodlum, a zany literary partner and a would-be-wife threaten, cajole and provoke him through his all too human odyssey through spiritual recollection, mindfulness and vision. Throughout, the evocative memories and deeds of his deceased lifelong poet friend, collaborator and rival twist him this way and that. The esoteric philosophy of Rudolf Steiner provides the foundation. This is a stunning pyrotechnic of erudition, muscular style, and tragicomic narration. If you like Shakespeare you will like this. Humboldt is a 20th-century Hamlet, possibly crossed with Goethe’s Faust.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Unashamedly American 10 Nov 2013
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
Pithy, witty and earthy the book sometimes wanders off into philosophical musings that are over intricate. There were also many literary references that to me, but maybe not others, were often obscure. All in all, however, an intriguing Chicago romp.
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5.0 out of 5 stars brilliant 24 April 2013
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
Brilliant and funny, this is only the 2nd book I've read by Bellow,I don't think any writer I have read covers so much history and so many ideas so gently and with such rich mixture of pathos and hope.
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5 of 7 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Typical 1970's American novel 4 April 2011
Format:Paperback
Humboldt's Gift is what I would call a typical 1970's American novel. Not the happiest decade for the USA. I know that's a vague description, but if you've read books such as Something Happened, The Dice Man, Memoirs of the Ford Administration, Lot 49, American Pastoral (written in 1998, but looks back to this time), Looking for Mr Goodbar, etc, you'll recognise familiar themes - essentially, a bunch of bored, wealthy people, drifting aimlessly downstream, grabbing at any 'new' sexual game or a la mode suburban metaphysic that doesn't cost them a moment's pain. The characters are residually Jewish or Christian, but nowhere in H's Gift is there any mention of Synagogue or Church, as these anchors are far too old-fashioned to deserve any consideration.

At least Gatsby's friends didn't indulge in this sort of dreary, Madame Blavatsky-esque nonsense that Bellow continually tries to pass off as high idealism:
"He argued that between the conception of an act and its execution by the will there fell a gap of sleep. It might be brief but it was deep. For one of man's souls was a sleep-soul. In this, human beings resembled the plants, whose whole existence is sleep."

At the end of the novel, after five hundred pages of melancholic introspection and some really snappy screenplay dialogue from Chicago's gangsters, we have a group of people standing around Humboldt's coffin in a cemetary. No one can think of an appropriate prayer, so one confused old fellow decides to sing an aria from Aida instead.

I know this won the Pulitzer and Bellow has the Nobel Prize, but - it's been said before - writers win awards for many reasons, and literary talent isn't the most important. Bellow captured the spirit of the age, puts it in a nice, attractive bottle and makes us think we have a vintage. We don't.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
2.0 out of 5 stars 200 pages of plot, 300 of navel gazing
Having enjoyed "Seize the Day" I thought why not give his Pulitzer Prize winner a go? In short there is a plot buried in here but garnished with acres of turgid prose when the... Read more
Published on 4 April 2012 by Caterkiller
4.0 out of 5 stars bellow near his best
Very well worth reading if you care at all about Bellow - his style is involved and intricate, but worth the effort, and his plotting may best be described as episodic picaresque -... Read more
Published on 6 Nov 2010 by William Jordan
4.0 out of 5 stars A flawed masterpiece
This is a difficult book to categorize. On the back cover is a quote from the San Francisco Examiner: 'funny, vibrant, ironic, self-mocking and wise' and all of these it certainly... Read more
Published on 24 Sep 2010 by Phil O'Sofa
4.0 out of 5 stars A Fascinating Journey
I enjoyed this work on so many levels that perhaps it seems churlish to cavil at its occasional longueurs; Bellow's language is supple, energetic and beautifully vivid and the... Read more
Published on 15 Aug 2010 by Tod Hackett
5.0 out of 5 stars America
This is not an easy read but well worth the effort. At the winter of his life, Bellow philosophises - often bitterly. Read more
Published on 16 Oct 2009 by Rayna Vincent
5.0 out of 5 stars Well merits its Nobel Prize
This is my first Saul Bellow novel and it will not be my last. He is truly in the top class of literary authors. Read more
Published on 12 Jun 2009 by John Ferngrove
2.0 out of 5 stars Bogged down in pretension
Humboldt's Gift is a novel that becomes bogged down in its own intellectual pretensions. When the plot is actually moving, it's reasonably entertaining and well written. Read more
Published on 14 April 2009 by BookWorm
5.0 out of 5 stars A note of caution...
This is a great book, but beware prospective purchasers! I bought this edition specifically because it is advertised as having an introduction by Martin Amis, who is my favourite... Read more
Published on 16 July 2008 by Brother John
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