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Henderson the Rain King (Classic, 20th-Century, Penguin) Paperback – June 1, 1996

3.9 out of 5 stars 132 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Bellow's classic novel of a dissatisfied American millionaire finding himself in Africa has been newly recorded in time for the novel's 50th anniversary. Joe Barrett reads the seriocomic tale of Eugene Henderson, who flees workaday American anomie for the freeing chaos of Africa. Barrett's voice is pleasingly gravelly, rimed with experience and rising to a growling screech at particularly heated moments. Every audio recording should be so lucky as to work with Bellow's prose, but this version, directed by Keith Reynolds, is more than adequate. Barrett is to be commended for sounding like a man of Bellow's era, not his own; one can almost picture Bellow's voice emitting a similar blend of assurance and self-conscious anxiety. A Viking hardcover. (July)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


"A kind of wildly delirious dream made real by the force of Bellow's rollicking prose and the offbeat inventiveness of his language."
Chicago Tribune

"It made me dance."
—Henry Miller — Chicago Tribune --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Product Details

  • Series: Classic, 20th-Century, Penguin
  • Paperback: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Classics (June 1, 1996)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0140189424
  • ISBN-13: 978-0140189421
  • Product Dimensions: 5.1 x 0.7 x 7.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.1 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (132 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #794,150 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
This is the BEST book I've read in ages. I found it so thoroughly engaging, I couldn't put it down! Eugene Henderson, a great (often) drunken oaf of a man--rich, somewhat crass, a man who does not suffer fools gladly and makes life for his wives and children difficult--chafes at the restraints of a sophisticated, civilized existence in New York and makes his way into Africa. Once there, all his innate qualities--sheer strength, his instincts, rashness,while drawbacks in an artifical social world--serve him well in the natural world. He encounters princes, kings and hired guides, who he treats with equal respect. Africa gives him an arena to test himself, quench his thirst for an answer to the internal (and for him, eternal) question that eludes him throughout his life: I want, I want, I want. Through his journey, he finds out what he really wants to do with the rest of his life and comes out of this adventure with a greater sense of who he really is. Saul Bellow makes Henderson and his experiences so real, the reader feels as though he or she is there, seeing it all through Henderson's eyes. I think this book is a gem, a completely entertaining read.
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Format: Paperback
"I was not the lion, but it fell to me to give the lion's roar." ~Winston Churchill

Henderson the Rain King is the story of Henderson, a middle-aged man, who despite his wealth is unsatisfied with his life. He feels unfulfilled and continues to hear a voice in his head that says, "I want, I want, I want." In his quest for meaning he travels to remote African villages for spiritual and emotional enlightenment.

Henderson is a pretty unlikeable character at first as he is is selfish and uncaring. He has a lot of faults as Bellow lets us into his personal thoughts. He becomes more and more likable as the book progresses. He has a real desire to help people; the problem is he is like a bull in a china shop and is in such a rush to help he tends to make things worse. Along the way Henderson unknowingly does something that makes him the Rain King in one remote village. He becomes fast friends with the native king and they spend hours discussing philosophy and the meaning of life. The king spends hours with him and a tame lion teaching him how to become like a lion and to cast off his former self.

This book was ranked #21 on Modern Library's list of the 100 Best Novels. It was written in 1959 and is considered by many a modern-day classic. I enjoyed many aspects of the book, especially the story and the excellent writing; however, I had a difficult time with the pages upon pages of philosophical reflections. It got pretty mind numbing to me. That's a possible reflection on my somewhat short-attention span but I found myself falling to sleep over and over in the middle of these ongoing ramblings. It took me a long time to read but I think it worthy of a recommendation if only for the powerful and imaginative writing.
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Gene Henderson, a 50-something millionaire living in 1950s America, decides to take a trip to Africa to try to quiet the voice inside him that keeps saying "I want, I want." Since Henderson already has everything material he could want, he can't find any way to satisfy that voice, and he has already tried several other things prior to his African trip. I'm not sure what Bellow intended, but as I read it, Henderson represents America - huge, crude, often well-meaning but causing destruction nevertheless. Bellow's imaginary Africa would then be the entire developing world - or even the whole world outside America. It's hard to like Henderson at first; even his own first-person narration casts him in a bad light. As his attempts to help the people in the first tribe he meets end in catastrophe, he seems to represent the American ignorance and arrogance that led to so many disastrous overseas projects in the 1950s and 1960s. Subdued by his first failure, Henderson allows himself to learn from the second tribe, and although he ultimately barely escapes with his life, he comes away with the inner peace he had sought, with a new wisdom, and with a determination to become a healer. The message seems pretty obvious.
An alternative way to read it makes Henderson representative of anyone who no longer has to work for a living and who searches for something to give life meaning. This should resonate with any young dot com millionaire as much as with any healthy retired person. Either way, the book reads smoothly and moves along briskly. Read it long enough to get past your initial dislike of Henderson, and it will reward your efforts.
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Format: Paperback
The title character of Saul Bellow's "Henderson the Rain King" is one of the most remarkable personalities in modern literature. Most first-person narrators just kind of lay on the page, passively hoping the reader will sympathize with or care about them; but Eugene Henderson is a three-dimensional creation, arrogant, energetic, restless, engaging the reader with his lively banter and gleeful impudence.
55-year-old Henderson is a millionaire by inheritance, aimlessly sleepwalking through life, married to a ditzy wife, and channeling ancestral spirits by playing his dead father's violin. Needing a vacation from his family and his dreary normal existence, and feeling that "...it's the destiny of [his] generation of Americans to go out in the world and try to find the wisdom of life," he travels to Africa and impulsively decides to go off into the wild.
A hired guide named Romilayu leads him to two remote villages. The first is inhabited by a tribe called the Arnewi. He observes with delight that the Arnewi village must be older than the city of Ur -- this is what he was looking for, the cradle of civilization, unblemished by the advances of modern society. Here he finds the natives in a crisis: their precious cattle are dying of thirst because the water in the village cistern is undrinkable. On his own initiative, he tries to solve their problem; but his plan fails disastrously, and he and Romilayu leave the village in shame.
They go to a second village, inhabited by a larger tribe called the Wariri, ruled by a king named Dahfu. The Wariri are suffering from a drought and go through elaborate rituals in order to conjure rain.
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