Ravelstein Hardcover – 27 Apr 2000
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With his latest novel Ravelstein, Saul Bellow proves that even in his ninth decade, he can pin a character to the page more vividly, and more permanently, than just about anybody on the planet. Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, Bellow confined himself to shorter fictions. Not that this old master ever dabbled in minimalism: his novella The Actual was bursting at the seams with wit, plot and the intellectual equivalent of high fibre. Still, Bellow's readers wondered if he would ever pull another full-sized novel from his hat. Well, he has.
Character is very much the issue in Ravelstein, whose eponymous subject is a thinly disguised version of Bellow's boon companion, the late Allan Bloom. Like Bloom, Abe Ravelstein has spent much of his career at the University of Chicago, fighting a rearguard action against the creeping boobism and vulgarity of American life. What's more, he's written a surprise bestseller (a ringer, of course, for The Closing of the American Mind), which has made him into a millionaire. And finally, he's dying--has died from an AIDS-related illness, in fact, six years before the opening of the novel. What we're reading, then, is a faux-memoir by his best friend and anointed Boswell, a Bellovian body-double named Chick:
Ravelstein was willing to lay it all out for me. Now why did he bother to tell me such things, this large Jewish man from Dayton, Ohio? Because it very urgently needed to be said. He was HIV-positive, he was dying of complications from it. Weakened, he became the host of an endless list of infections. Still, he insisted on telling me over and over again what love was--the neediness, the awareness of incompleteness, the longing for wholeness, and how the pains of Eros were joined to the most ecstatic pleasures.Ravelstein is a little thin in the plot department--or more accurately, it has an anti-plot, that consists of Chick's inability to write his memoir. But seldom has a case of writer's block been so supremely productive. The narrator dredges up anecdote after anecdote about his subject, assembling a composite portrait: "In approaching a man like Ravelstein, a piecemeal method is perhaps best." We see this very worldly philosopher teaching, kvetching, eating, drinking and dying, the last in melancholic increments. His death, and Chick's own brush with what Henry James called "the distinguished thing," give much of the novel a kind of black-crepe coloration. But fortunately, Bellow shares Ravelstein's "Nietzschean view, favourable to comedy and bandstands," and there can't be many eulogies as funny as this one.
As always, the author is lavish with physical detail, bringing not only his star but a large gallery of minor players to rude and resounding life ("Rahkmiel was a non-benevolent Santa Claus, a dangerous person, ruddy, with a red-eyed scowl and a face in which the anger muscles were highly developed"). His sympathies are also stretched in some interesting directions by his homosexual protagonist. Bellow hasn't, to be sure, transformed himself into an affirmative-action novelist. But his famously capacious view of human nature has been enriched by this additional wrinkle: "In art you become familiar with due process. You can't simply write people off or send them to hell." A world-class portrait, a piercing intimation of mortality, Ravelstein is truly that other distinguished thing: a great novel. --James Marcus
The magic still sparks and flashes on the page...Masterful in its thoroughness and intricacy...the prose rings as clearly as a meditation bell. Roland Merullo, The Philadelphia Inquirer (front-page review)
This book rings with laughter and joy....Ravelstein is an extraordinary character...it is hard not to feel privileged at being allowed a glimpse into a human connection as intimate and rewarding as this one. Jonathan Yardley, The Washington Post Book World (front-page review)
"With his new novel, Saul Bellow proves that he still dominates. . . . Ravelstein is full of heart and wisdom, and I want to praise it without a pinch of qualification. Sven Birkerts, Esquire
A cause for celebration...Bellow hugs the modern world hard in this novel...Ravelstein is rich, deep, and unnervingly entertaining. Jonathan Wilson, The New York Times Book Review (front-page review) --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.See all Product Description
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Top Customer Reviews
In the novel, Abe Ravelstein is based upon Allan Bloom, a professor of political philosophy at the University of Chicago and a student of Leo Strauss (called Davorr in the book). Professor Bloom became wealthy when his 1987 book, "The Closing of the American Mind" became an unexpected best-seller. Bloom's book stresses the importance of philosophy and the humanities, particularly the philosophy of Plato, if education is to meet its function of forming thoughtful, passionate, and autonomous persons. He sharply criticized higher education in the United States, together with most of pop culture, for its failure to acknowledge or to pursue these goals. Bloom grew up in a Jewish family in the midwest.
Like Bloom, Saul Bellow grew up in a Jewish family in the midwest. Unlike Bloom, recognition came to Bellow relatively early in his career as a novelist. Bellow received the Nobel Prize in 1976. He has won three National Book Awards and the Pulitzer Prize.
The two men became fast friends relatively late in life and "Ravelstein" (2000) is a record of their friendship written by Bellow (born 1915) in his mid-80s. A painter with words, Bellow in a short space gives the reader an unforgettable picture of Ravelstein. The book disclaims an attempt to deal with Ravelstein's thought. But I think Bellow captures a great deal of it when he emphasizes how students must learn to leave home and the familiar and try to think for themselves.Read more ›
I quickly realized Ravelstein must have been Allan Bloom, made famous for his Closing of the American Mind, to which Bellow penned the preface. Ravelstein recounts the friendship between Bellow and Bloom (Chick and Ravelstein) as professors during what might be called their sundowner years -Ravelstein is dying and asks Chick to write his memoir, which Chick does after his own near-death experience.
The novel is a good one. I appreciated the descriptions of Raveltsein's brilliance and excesses and the magnetism he had over his students and colleagues. I also liked the references to classical learning (Bloom translated The Republic during the `60s, I think) and ruminations about Jewishness and what that means. There are a few jokes and surprising cultural references, and anecdotes and descriptions are quite entertaining. The book is well-written; there is hardly a sentence that is not thoughtfully crafted, and the story carries you along, for the most part. I thought it lagged a bit near the end (when it shifts from Ravelstein to Chick, or Bloom to Bellow) and that it was a little dry in places, but then it was meant as a fairly serious book and it was published when Bellow was 85. I liked the novel enough to want to come back to Bellow in the future, which means, for me, Ravelstein did what it was supposed to.
Troy Parfitt is the author of Why China Will Never Rule the World
Evidently, 'Ravelstein' is based on Allan Bloom who wrote in the late 80s the controversial 'The Closing of the American Mind'. "We live in a thought-world, and the thinking has gone very bad indeed.'' Wrote Saul Bellow, in his foreword to Allan Bloom's controversial book some 13 years ago.
It appears that 'Ravelstein' is rather fragmented frames of Bellow's memory of Alan Bloom. Some readers may find it difficult to understand the meaning of this book. I'm sure the Gay community will label it as an anti-gay novel. I am not sure whether that was Bellow's intention. Does he want us to get deeper insights into the darkness of human nature?
One of the most important question about Bellow's 'Ravelstein' is the role of a writer and his ability to pass or not to pass judgements on moral issues or the question of mortality. In this novel Bellow passes a judgement about Ravelstein's "sex habits" in fact, as he calls "reckless sex habits" which I'm sure will not be acceptable to the gay community around the world.
In the novel, Ravelstein questions, "With what, in this modern day democracy, will you meet the demands of your soul?" This is indeed a difficult question to answer.Read more ›
Most Recent Customer Reviews
i love Saul Bellow, not only for the atmospheric sense of place, his lifelong dedication to learning and understanding, but the sheer beauty of his sensitivity to language and... Read morePublished on 13 May 2011 by Ms. Linda Weir