Tags: Saul | Bellow | Life

Saul Bellow In My Life

Friday, 15 April 2005 12:00 AM

In its announcement of his death Reuters called him "perhaps the greatest American novelist since WW2."

It is also recalled in the articles published on April 6 and thereafter that once he lived on reviews for which he was paid $10 apiece. A reviewer has to read the book he reviews. That is, Bellow made from $1 to $2 a day.

But I can give an example far more striking. We corresponded by slow mail, when e-mail did not yet exist. I sent him a letter the text of which occupied half a page.

In his answer he said that he had cut off and enclosed the blank half of the page, which I could use for writing. Even today a page of paper costs about half a cent. So he saved for me about one-quarter of one cent. He assumed that I was in that kind of American poverty in which he was in the 1930s, beginning from the Depression (he was 15 in 1930).

His gesture also shows his infinite capacity for compassion. He was saving for me a quarter of one cent because he assumed that I was in the same position he had been before the age of 38.

In 1975 he, already a world celebrity, spent several months in Israel, and in 1976 published "To Jerusalem and Back." On pp. 18-19 he recalled my book "The Education of Lev Navrozov," which Harper & Row had published in 1975 (had he read it in Israel?).

Yes, Saul Bellow was created to be a socio-political thinker!

Navrozov sees us, the Americans, as children at whom the Stalins smile through their mustachios. Perhaps there is a certain Vautrin-admiring romanticism in this.

Dostoevski, no mean judge of such matters, thought there was much to be said for the murderer's point of view. Navrozov extends the position. Liberal democracy is as brief as a bubble. Now and then history treats us to an interval of freedom and civilization and we make much of it.

We forget, he seems to think, that as a species we are generally close to the "state of nature," as Thomas Hobbes described it—a nasty, brutish, pitiless condition in which men are too fearful of death to give much thought to freedom.

If Hobbes is too nifty an authority, let us think of the social views of Jimmy Hoffa. Or of the Godfather. Or of Lenin, as Navrozov accurately characterizes him. And this is what America, bubbling with political illusions, is up against.

Later I was to give a lecture at Boston University, where he was an esteemed professor. When I entered the hall, I noticed him setting in a back row. His modesty stunned me.

He, by that time a world celebrity, a Nobel Prize laureate, etc., etc., etc., had walked in silently and sat in a back row. I told him, "Seeing you at my lecture, I am as flattered as was Shaliapin, a Russian basso, when he saw in the opera house Nicholas II in his box." His reaction took a split second. "I hope I will end better than he did." Nicholas II, along with his entire family, including children, was shot by Lenin out of the fear of restoration of the monarchy, constitutional or semi-constitutional.

I was already writing my present book, which the ST Literary Agency is now selling to publishers. One paragraph from his letter to me I took as the epigraph to my book, and the ST Literary Agency put it into its "Online Pitch Page" of my book, being sold to publishers.

The paragraph proves again that Bellow was created to be a thinker in a civilization that has no thinkers any longer. Says he in his letter to me:

I doubt whether you (or anyone) can restore the diminishing sight of what you call "the sightless and hence doomed" West. What one can attempt is to describe the condition in its fundamentals. This indispensable description if it is to be uncontestable will take more strength than any normal man has, for what we have is a probably fatal case of political poisoning, and the distortions and hallucinations it causes may be impossible to dispel. You must have more strength than any normal man has, or you would not have set yourself such a task.

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In its announcement of his death Reuters called him "perhaps the greatest American novelist since WW2." It is also recalled in the articles published on April 6 and thereafter that once he lived on reviews for which he was paid $10 apiece.A reviewer has to read the book...
Saul,Bellow,Life
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2005-00-15
Friday, 15 April 2005 12:00 AM
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