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4.2 out of 5 stars
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4.2 out of 5 stars
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on 23 March 2001
I had never read any Bellow before I opened this book, but it blew me away, and I can't wait to read more. It is the story of Augie March, a poor kid brought up by his overbearing grandmother and downtrodden mother in 1930s Chicago. As he grows into maturity, he starts to make ends meet on the very edge of the law, doing odd jobs, working for a series of well-meaning but self-important grandees who try to make him into a big success. But Augie has "opposition", and though he is smart and handsome, finds his ambitions unsatisfied by the big bucks that his brother begins to amass. Again and again he rejects other people's plans to make something of him, until he falls wildly in love with the beautiful, rich and free-spirited Thea, who carries him off to Mexico to hunt iguanas with an eagle. Bellow's language is sometimes difficult, but always exuberant and expansive, full of detailed description and colour, bursting with throwaway ideas. The novel has an abundance of hilarious minor characters, who appear and reappear as Augie muddles his way through his Bohemian and vaguely Bolshevik circles, making a buck here and there, more or less legally, and observing everything with a wry sense of humour, dauntless optimism and quiet integrity. I have not enjoyed a novel this much for a long time. It starts slowly, building up characters gradually, but pretty soon it is unput-downable. The ending is a bit weak, like so many of these rites-of-passage novels, and it becomes a bit glib and conceptual. But the first 350 pages represent some of the finest twentieth-century writing in English that I have read. It is a novel about the limits of the soul and the growth of a mind, about the trade-offs between adventure and pain, happiness and security, and the search for fulfilment in a time of global depression, when the world was doing everything it could to dampen the human spirit.
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on 15 June 2001
In the Adventures of Augie March Saul Bellow gives us an insight into the reality of the life of the all american kid. March is a jewish kid growing up on the wrong side of the tracks during depression time Chicago. He strives to do his best by all around him whilst also trying to get a grip on the american dream. The two tier american society of the very rich and the also rans is exposed for possibly the first time in 20th century literatue. March tries to work both within the system and from without, with varying degrees of success. He flirts with education, crime, marriage and travel, all with startling results. The Adventures of Augie March is as accuarte a portrayal of the difficulties of growing up underprivliged in the US today as it was sixty years ago. An excellent read and a brilliant introduction to the fine prose of Bellow.
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on 2 December 2010
At the old age of 47 having read my way through most 20th century famous authors, I had, because of many misconceptions avoided Bellow. Then I downloaded the audio version of Augie March on my ipod and I was transfixed. There is no way to describe accurately the joy this writing brings to the heart. It is a long time since I finished a book and immediately wanted to read it again but that is just what happened here. I urge you to read this masterpiece. You won't regret it.
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I've finally finished it! And though it's a very dense read (not one to take to bed; you need to be 'on the ball' to cope with Bellow's prose), it's also extremely enjoyable.
The storyline follows our eponymous 'hero' from humble origins in Depression era Chicago, child of a simple-minded mother and unknown father, through a succession of jobs and relationships. From lowly work to getting 'taken up' by wealthier individuals, Augie's narrative includes wonderful, often very humorous, descriptions; interposed with his story are conversations on life which he has with his various acquaintances.
I don't pretend to have picked up on all the philosophical musings, but there's a lot of powerfully expressed truths in those I did. For example, on human dissembling:
"Even in a few minutes' conversation, do you realise how many times what you feel is converted before it comes out as what you say? Somebody tells you A. Your response is B. B you can't say, so you transform it, you put it through the coils of your breast. From DC to AC, increased four hundred volts, filtered. So instead of B, there comes out gamma sub one....Mind you, I'm a great admirer of our species. I stand in awe of the genius of the race. But a large part of this genius is devoted to lying and seeming what you are not."
A challenging book (536 p) but one I'm glad I read.
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on 31 December 2001
A brilliant portrayal of a young man trying to learn to live within his world. The experiences and encounters of Augie are vivid and richly colored. There is a wonderful freshness, almost vivaciousness, imparted to a tired and economically depressed Chicago. The very idea of adventure in an urban setting seems almost puerile perhaps to many, but Bellow perceives the existence of challenge and life in the run-down and dilapadated. It is perhaps old-fashioned to be inspired by a book but if such a thing can still exist it can be found in 'The Adventures of Augie March'
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VINE VOICEon 29 December 2006
Saul Bellow uses Augie March's fairly extraordinary saga to allow us all, and probably himself too, to muse our ways through a succession of reflections on the human predicament. I would be surprised if most readers did not discover from time to time in these pages something of themselves; of their fears, hopes, dismay, despair, and perhaps resilience. It's a very rewarding read. Not that it's not difficult sometimes. In fact, either he, S.B., simply ratchets up his verbal dexterity beyond my reach from time to time, or could it be that his determination to find ever more complicated verbal chords actually sometimes produces combinations that don't really work. Certainly sometimes they don't work for me. But there are also passages of breathtaking effect which leave one to wonder how words can be crafted with such skill to describe with such extraordinary clarity our previously unvoiced (because by us un-voicable, if not un-thinkable) feelings and reactions to so many situations, some common enough. A master at work.
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on 4 June 2008
The recollections of the novel's narrator, Augie, take the reader on a lengthy but engaging journey through the America of the Great Depression and, towards the end of the novel, the Second World War. Throughout the novel Augie fails to decide on a specific vocation. Whilst intelligent and well read, he lacks the specialist skills and certainty required to pursue a conventional career. Consequently, he finds employment in a number of multifarious, mostly menial, roles. Willing to turn his hand to anything, Augie finds himself, amongst other things, hitching rides across states on freezing-cold freight trains, stealing books for wealthy university students and helping to train an eagle with his then girlfriend in Mexico. The realist style of Bellow's writing makes for a lengthy but very enjoyable, engaging and, apart from the occasional references to the Old Testament and Classical Mythology, accessible novel. The introduction by Christopher Hitchens is also definitely worth reading after, or before if you want the plot spoiled further, you've finished the novel itself.
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on 22 August 2016
Have given up after seventy pages. The style is atrocious - dense sentences full of distracting parentheses, very long lists of adjectives to one noun, pointless neologisms, parade of unnecessary references to European history and culture. The text is comprised of long paragraphs and long chapters unenlivened by any stretches of involving dialogue,. If only Bellow had concentrated on presenting his undeniably interesting material and characters through the medium of a clear prose like that of, say, Truman Capote, rather than trying much too hard to create a "great work of literature" and the "the great American novel"! I note that Bellow received the Nobel Prize for Literature; I have always found that this award is a sure indicator of "worthy", "significant" but unartistic writing and The Adventures of Augie March is no exception.
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on 1 July 2009
The style of this novel was quite off-putting after reading more elegant and accomplished later works such as Ravelstein and Humboldt's gift. The usual old attempts to get 'behind' or create new types of language; being deliberately contradictory by describing things as 'black', not in terms of colour but by some alternative definition - these are things I find difficult to get past.
Ultimately, though, as with truly great writers, Bellow's idiosyncratic and truly unique characters and organic narrative flow rise this book above those early attempts at literary over-originality and, while not as good as Humboldt's Gift, this is a truly fascinating story, setting up many of Bellow's later pre-occupations e.g. the pre-occupation with Chicago underworld life; the narrator's fascination with powerful older men.
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on 5 April 2015
Can there even be a Great American Novel? Looking in from the outside, I'd argue otherwise. There are too many American experiences, and such a diversity of experiences across a nation the size and population of Europe that arguing a single novel can articulate them is futile. This is borne out by the way in which novels as different as The Great Gatsby, The Sound and The Fury, The Adventures of Augie March and Infinite Jest are all trumpeted as Great American novels. Given that these books have nothing in common given a common language and the nationality of their authors, perhaps it makes more sense to speak of Great Novels of a particular American experience - in which case The Adventures of Augie March is a triumph, articulating the interwar American experience of the working class to such a degree as to make it intelligible and resonant across the ages, long after the historical events informing the life and times of the aimless but highly intelligent Augie March have receded into history.Whilst this mightn't be the place to start with Bellow (mostly due to length, the much shorter Seize The Day provides a better introduction to his body of work), it's a great novel and the best of his I've read. All varieties of life are contained here, understood in joy,tragedy and madness through the eyes of Augie March, a deceptively intelligent everyman scattered by the winds of change.

There are strong parallels between Bellow's life and March's - in some ways Bellow uses the novel as a vehicle to understand the kind of man he'd have been were it not for his art, exploring the tensions created by an inability to specialize or focus when all around him manage to, much as Bellow went from a variety of odd jobs to joining the military to becoming an academic before choosing to pursue literature properly, much as March does, albeit in the manner of a Dedalus whose Bloom never truly arrives (apologies for the nerdishness). I feel that this is a book that it's worth buying a copy of, as I started reading a library copy of this before. Whilst it seemed great (if nothing else, Bellow is a good storyteller and witty with it). I didn't manage to finish it on time. I really enjoyed the chance to reread the chapters I had read, and to appreciate how strong Bellow's prose is: Martin Amis' claim that "his sentences seem to weigh more than anyone else" has some truth to it. Bellow manages to be incredibly articulate and learned without ever being ostentatious- every sentence feels necessary. Whilst I still suggest reading Seize The Day first so as to get a feel for Bellow and his themes, this book is outstanding and deserves the praise it receives.

The Great American Novel? No, but it's the great novel of a certain American experience, much as Updike's Rabbit saga is of the WASP experience Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby of the aristocracy and David Foster Wallace's work is of the MTV/Facebook generations.
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