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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A fascinating and thought provoking, if sometimes slightly frustrating evocation of Jewish life in post-war New York
Though few readers and critics would care to argue on the quality of Bellow's `The Adventures of Augie March' or `Humboldt's Gift', `Mr. Sammler's Planet' is a text which inspires much more disagreement. The novel's focus is the experiences of Artur Sammler, a Holocaust survivor living in the liberal New York of the late 1960s. Unable to escape his memories of the old...
Published on 5 Jun. 2011 by Mr. D Burin

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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars more of an essay than a novel
Bellow's earlier work - Augie March, Henderson the Rain King and Herzog - shows that he was one of the great novelists of our time. This book, however, is more of an essay than a novel. Written at the time of the US moon-shot, Artur Sammler reflects on his planet at the time of a giant new step for mankind. He lives in a decaying New York and he is a Holocaust survivor...
Published on 17 Oct. 2010 by William Jordan


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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A fascinating and thought provoking, if sometimes slightly frustrating evocation of Jewish life in post-war New York, 5 Jun. 2011
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Though few readers and critics would care to argue on the quality of Bellow's `The Adventures of Augie March' or `Humboldt's Gift', `Mr. Sammler's Planet' is a text which inspires much more disagreement. The novel's focus is the experiences of Artur Sammler, a Holocaust survivor living in the liberal New York of the late 1960s. Unable to escape his memories of the old world, and to find any comfort in the Jewish faith, Sammler lives with one foot in New York and one in wartime Poland, a character both highly intellectual and erudite, but also hugely frustrated and confused. Sammler appears to work as a mouthpiece for Bellow, and nearly every opinion we get in the novel is Sammler's, to a point where the narration seems almost first person. Sammler's reactionary tone, which is generally agreed to also be that of Bellow in this novel, has provided derision and frustration from many critics, who see Bellow's depiction of the Columbia students to be over-exaggerated and insulting, and the same of both the promiscuous Angela, and the Black thief, who is portrayed by Bellow as animalistic and purely physical. These portrayals, which have frustrated the majority of readers are an obstacle, but by no means destroy what is a fascinating and often illuminating novel.

From Sammler's recollection of an act of retribution in his escape from Auschwitz, to Wallace's lunar dreams and Sammler's struggle to unpack his own guilt, provide hugely thought provoking moments, often written with a beautiful, sparse language, and evoke some of the biggest questions and issues of the ouvre of an author known for his challenging of major themes. Equally, though sometimes a little exaggerated, Bellow's close portrayals of characters like the tragically optimistic, scheme-obsessed Wallace and Sammler's failed relationship with his own eccentric daughter Shula, are fantastically evoked. The majority of readers will encounter the frustrations of exaggerated stereotyping and the novel's reactionary tone, but those willing to stick with the novel will find a wealth of strangely brilliant language, superb evocations of personal relationships, and some of the most poignant, sparse and moving evocations of holocaust experience anywhere in fiction.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars more of an essay than a novel, 17 Oct. 2010
Bellow's earlier work - Augie March, Henderson the Rain King and Herzog - shows that he was one of the great novelists of our time. This book, however, is more of an essay than a novel. Written at the time of the US moon-shot, Artur Sammler reflects on his planet at the time of a giant new step for mankind. He lives in a decaying New York and he is a Holocaust survivor. So his report on his planet is not great - though he does recognise that things weren't great at the time of Julius Caesar either.

Sammler's benefactor is dying; his benefactor's children are ungrateful; Sammler himself has troubles with a pickpocket, and with his daughter and son-in-law. He reflects quite a bit on HG Wells and his world view. And on Meister Eckhardt, whom he is reading and with whom alone he feels an intellectual affinity. He stops to have a very long intellectual conversation in which he sums up his view of life in Chapter 5.

This is not without interest - but at the end of the day, more of an essay than a novel - and a book that is very much of its time.
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1.0 out of 5 stars Tedious mumbo-jumbo, 14 Aug. 2014
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A tedious novel without plot nor caracters, full of appaling dialogue, naive pseudo-philosofical mumbo-jumbo and stupid generalizations on the Woman, the Black People, the Space Travels, the Human Soul (Saul?), etc. In sum, a "novel of ideas" at its worst, whose ideas are totally uncientific and ludicrously dated. Even worst than the ultra-boring "Ravelstein".
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5 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An Outstanding Jewish Masterpiece, 19 Aug. 2007
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Three days of the life of a seventy-odd-year-old Polish Jew in New York. He is going to witness everyday life in New York, recollect his life in England where he was a university professor up to 1939, remember his moving back to Poland in 1939 to solve some family inheritance, his being caught by the Germans with his wife and a great number of other Jews (one year after the Crystal Night, which makes it crazy of him to have gone back), being blinded in one eye by a German rifle butt, forced to dig their mass grave, lined up in front of it, shot and pushed into the grave, covered up with earth and then his crawling out of it, joining the partisans in some forest, escaping their anti-Jewish purification at the end of the war by surviving in a Polish vault in a cemetery, and finally his being sheltered in the Salzburg Displaced Persons Camp and recuperated from there by some cousin, a rich doctor in New York. With only one good eye he is going to live, see and observe life and become the gathering mind of western culture while filtering his vision through it. Thus he will refer to some one-hundred-and-sixty authors, philosophers, artists and works of art in these three days. One will emerge very strong, H.G. Wells whom he had known personally in the late 1930s and whose theories on the Moon he will reminisce and cross with the theories of an Indian scientist, Govinda Lal, who is technically thinking the migration of humanity towards other planets. He will observe the other members of his family. His daughter first who is a gatherer too, but of everything she can find in trashcans or public places, and she will manage to borrow, with the intention of not bringing it back, the only copy of the manuscript Govinda Lal used to deliver a lecture on the moon, in order to give it to her father in order to incite him to finish his essay on H.G. Wells. She is obviously spaced-out, particularly because she escaped the Nazis in Poland by being sheltered, half converted and educated by Polish nuns. Then we have the Gruners, the doctor who retrieved Mr Sammler and his daughter after the war, and his two children, Angela and Wallace, both spaced-out too because they were raised in a family that provided them with everything without having to make the slightest effort. Angela is described as a sex addict and Wallace as a dangerous half crazy squanderer. Finally another cousin, the widow Margotte Arkin, in whose flat he lives as a guest. The main two events of the novel are the aneurysm that will bring Dr Gruner to his death in three days, and the dishonest scavenging of Pr Lal's manuscript by Shula, Mr Sammler's daughter. Another character will give the opening event and one of the closing moments: the black pickpocket who will corner Mr Sammler, who has witnessed him in his picking pockets and purses, and exhibit his penis to assert his authority. This pickpocket will end up being severely wounded by Mr Sammler's son-in-law, an Israeli artist visiting New York, when the Columbia University Professor Feffer will take pictures of the pickpocket in his criminal activities which will bring up some kind of a fight. The whole book is a vision of the western world before and after the Second World War by a man who has only one valid eye and who is screening everything through the numerous cultural references he has accumulated in his mind over the years. His vision is thus warped by its one-eyed-ness. He is obsessed by death, which is coming in Dr Gruner and which he has survived by crawling out of his own grave in which he left his own wife. He is also obsessed by God though his references are mostly marginal Christians like Meister Eckhardt or agnostic thinkers like H.G. Wells or Nazi-inspired or -influenced thinkers like Schopenhauer. And this is the most fascinating aspect of the book. It is entirely animated by a fight between three musics that are built by the sounds, the words, and the syntax of Mr Sammler's language. The standard music of the Bible that becomes that of the world, a binary music built with choices between two elements or co-ordinations of two elements, or multiples of two. Then his intellectual, mental, abstract, conceptual constructions, always ternary because of Aristotle's dialectic, the mould of all western thinking, and Mr Sammler reminds us several times that the Jewish God and the Jewish religion is not European, not western but Asian. Mr Sammler constantly tries to bring together these two logics and he does it in the most biblical way, by using Solomon's number or David's star (a symbol all by itself after WW2), i.e. six but always decomposed in twice three or three times two. The book thus closes on Mr Sammler's prayer to God in front of Dr Gruner's body awaiting an autopsy. The last word is "know", the master word of a university intellectual, but entirely regenerated in a godly and divine direction by the subtle shifting from a conceptual "the terms [...] each man knows", to a personal "I know mine" and to the collective, Jewish, Israeli final sextuple vision in the collective "all know" followed by five "we know" centered on a direct address to God exactly before the last four "we know", hence making divinely Christian (eight is the symbol of Jesus's Second Coming, and four of his crucifixion) his very direct Jewish godly evocation. This novel is probably one of the most refined and best achievements by Saul bellow.

Dr Jacques COULARDEAU, University Paris Dauphine & University Paris 1 Pantheon Sorbonne
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars A highwayscribery Book Report, 14 Dec. 2010
"Mr. Sammler's Planet," makes the case for sticking with an author's big hits before delving into their more exotic offerings.

Saul Bellow, of course, is/was a famous writer whose big triumphs were "The Adventures of Augie March" and "Herzog."

highwayscribery decided upon "Mr. Sammler's Planet," thanks to its being mentioned in a column by David Brooks of the "New York Times."

In "Children of the '70s," Brooks sought to put a damper on recent enthusiasms for 1970s New York as a dangerous, but freewheeling and artistically sympathetic urban landscape that, on balance, was much better than the white flight and capital disinvestment that characterized it.

highwayscribery, who grew up in that New York, indulged just such a flight of fancy in his post memorializing the recently deceased downtown poet, Jim Carroll.

Brooks noted in his piece that, when the city tried slum clearance on the upper West Side, "Crime did not abate. Passivity set in, the sense that nothing could be done. The novel, 'Mr. Sammler's Planet,' by Saul Bellow captured some of the dispirited atmosphere of that era -- the sense that New York City was a place of no-go zones, a place where one hunkered down."

Some.

"Mr. Sammler's Planet," to the extent that it is about anything, fleshes out the post-Holocaust relationships between Jewish folk in New York: their mutual aid toward one another and the friendships forged by their unique and tragic recent history.

It is, briefly, about a pick-pocket Sammler watches and with whom he later experiences an unfortunate encounter. It is about the pending death of a close friend and benefactor. It is about his wacky daughter and her personal quest to make a father whose claim to fame is a long-ago relationship with H.G. Wells relevant to fast-changing times.

But these story threads are a skimpy skeleton upon which Mr. Bellow hung a lot of issues swimming around in his mind. It almost works until he gets into a discussion with Dr. Govinda Lal from whom his daughter Shula has stolen a manuscript.

The exchange is characterized by long-winded discourses from both men on the nature of things, which, to their minds, cannot be described in elementary terms. The two gents hold court with only the rarest authorial interjections to remind us these are characters talking and not just a stream of raw, unplugged Bellow.

The author was a Nobel Prize winner whose thoughts are novel and well-expressed. There is certainly valuable currency in "Mr. Sammler's Planet," but less of a story than one might expect from someone quite so celebrated.

Bring on "Herzog."
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2 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Possibly not the best Bellow to start with, 27 Nov. 2008
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P. Reavy (Belfast, N. Ireland) - See all my reviews
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This is the first novel by Bellow which I've tackled.

I singled it out from the others because the basic subject matter seemed the most approachable of any of the novels.

I found the book a bit of a struggle. For one things there are many difficult but beautiful passages describing the main character's thoughts. These reminded me of Robert Musil in The Man Without Qualities - a book which I never finished. These passages are there to illustrate Sammler's high intelligence but they can be overwhelming.

There is social criticism in the book early on, embedded within Sammler's thoughts. Especially early in the book, this social thinking seems to foreshadow, say, the editorial line of City Journal or the approach that would be put into practice by Mayor Giuliani. Interesting to come across that line of thought from a book published in 1970.

I like books with a strong sense of time and place. I did not quite get enough of that sense from this.

Bellow clearly has a masterly ability to weave characters and themes together. So I finished the book with a great respect for him but with the nagging feeling that I'd started in the wrong place.

It is possible that a second reading of the novel would bring it to life so I hesitate to give it less than 5 stars.
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Mr. Sammler's Planet
Mr. Sammler's Planet by Saul Bellow (Paperback - 13 Dec. 1984)
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