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Saul Bellow's Heart: A Son's Memoir Hardcover – April 23, 2013

4 out of 5 stars 14 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

With seizing poignancy, Nobel laureate Saul Bellow’s firstborn comes to grips with the private and public personae of his famous father. Greg takes particular care in resurrecting “young Saul,” the “rebellious, irreverent, and ambitious man” who raised him—a more affectionate, open-minded, and lighthearted man than the “hardened,” conservative celebrity Saul became. As a long-practicing psychotherapist, Greg is fluent in the complexities of feelings and the ways we mask and sublimate them. This gives his richly personal portrait credence and depth. We see father and son laughing at Marx Brothers movies, as well as Greg’s loneliness and sorrow when his parents split up. His frank chronicling of Saul’s four subsequent marriages and the tortuous vagaries of their father-son relationship generate arresting insights into Saul’s fierce competitiveness, epic infidelities, ill-chosen “reality instructors,” and growing “pessimism, anger, bitterness, intolerance, and preoccupation with evil and with his own death.” Greg even ties his observations to close readings of Saul’s fiction. Replete with compelling inside-literature tales, this is a loving and exacting remembrance of a “literary lion” who “struggled with his deepest emotions.” --Donna Seaman


Saul Bellow's Heart is a fascinating personal document written with much sympathy, yet an admirable candor, by Bellow's eldest son Gregory, a psychotherapist. It is a portrait of the artist at close quarters, and at a little distance; a confirmation of the deep autobiographical roots of Bellow's fiction; and a revelation of what it means to be a child, in this case one of three sons, of the most lavishly acclaimed American writer of the second half of the 20th century.” ―Joyce Carol Oates

“Nuanced, moving, and idiosyncratic, with an unpredictable ending.” ―New York Review of Books

“Greg Bellow's new memoir, Saul Bellow's Heart, now stands as the single most important book for those of us who have long wondered what his famous father was really like . . . . For better and worse, there's no stronger account of the life and times of the great writer than this one that was written by his own flesh and blood.” ―The Jewish Daily Forward

“Lovers of Bellow's novels will find familiar things illuminated in a different light. This is a book of nuances. And for a writer who looms as large as Saul Bellow, we can value its insights.” ―San Francisco Chronicle

Saul Bellow's Heart is written with love mixed with vexation and frustration rather than with anger or resentment.” ―Washington Post

“Greg has done something complicated and remarkable. He has spared none of the unsavory parts of his father's character and still enabled us to understand why this man could generate, throughout his life, so much love. Greg expresses anger along the way--this book does not pull punches with the characters who moved through Bellow's life--without the rancorous bitterness that suggests still unsettled reflections. Greg has opened his own heart. If there is any truth to the old adage that you judge a parent by the child, Greg is a testimonial.” ―Los Angeles Review of Books

“[A] balanced exposé of a Nobel Prize-winning author whose memorable, fallible narrators closely resemble Saul Bellow at various stages of his emotional and intellectual lives…Bellow's oeuvre has been examined many times by literary critics and biographers, but his son has unique insights into the author's heart, born of long conversations over many years about topics that a less liberal parent would have avoided.” ―Christian Science Monitor

“In Saul Bellow's Heart, which weaves memories and feelings with a discussion of Bellow's novels, the son sets out to reveal the human being concealed inside the literary lion. The memoir accomplishes this beautifully. Engaging and well-composed.” ―Washinton Independent Review of Books

“Greg is capable of showing great sympathy and reserve of judgment when discussing Saul, who required exorbitant portions of both--and often demanded more still.” ―New York Observer

“Saul Bellow was an incandescent being, and also incandescently difficult. Greg Bellow has written a wrenchingly candid account of being his son -- a real son, not a literary son: there is no self-invention here, there is only self-discovery. I was deeply moved by Greg Bellow's memoir of his passage from pain to acceptance. Amid the brutalities of love he has found its blessing.” ―Leon Wieseltier

“Affectionate but candid and at times brutally painful and honest, Saul Bellow's Heart reveals much about Saul and his oldest son. In writing this memoir Greg forges a final link between them, the act of writing and connecting again to a father whom he now knows more fully if less privately. For readers interested in both Saul Bellow and the complexities of father-son relationships, this memoir is revealing and rewarding.” ―Jewish Book Council

“Fondness doesn't lead to blindness in these pages: Thoughtful analysis and understanding are hallmarks throughout…A passionate book by a man with his own strong opinions.” ―Washington Times

“Unabashedly straightforward.” ―Publishers Weekly

“[A] richly personal portrait…Replete with compelling inside-literature tales, this is a loving and exacting remembrance of a ‘literary lion.'” ―Booklist

“Bittersweet . . . Replete with intimate anecdotes and insightful glimpses into the autobiographical aspects of the elder Bellow's fiction.” ―Library Journal

“Bellow scholars will be arguing about Saul Bellow's Heart for three hundred years.” ―Gloria Cronin, Editor, Saul Bellow Journal


Product Details

  • Hardcover: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Bloomsbury USA (April 23, 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1608199959
  • ISBN-13: 978-1608199952
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.9 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (14 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #695,830 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
For those who care about the genesis of a Nobel Prize winning author, this book is priceless. It manages to work at many levels--conveying Saul Bellow's mean-spirited narcissism, on the one hand, while detailing his painful background as a Jewish immigrant who never quite escaped the outsider status that came equally from his own harsh father and the temper of the times within which he grew up. This book is not for those who can't walk and chew gum at the same time. On the one hand, Greg Bellow exposes his father as an emperor without clothes. On the other hand, he treats his father with tenderness, understanding, forgiveness and love.
The opening paragraph of the book is one of the most gripping I've ever read.
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In Saul Bellow's Heart: A Son's Memoir, his oldest son, Gregory, a retired psychotherapist, has penned a book, five years in the making, that is remarkable for its vivid, honest and loving warts-and-all portrayal of the man he knew as complex,needy, brilliant, devoted above all to his writing, and, flaws notwithstanding, deeply involved in the lives of old friends, family and above all, to the sons of disparate ages he has by the first three of his five wives. Although Greg Bellow laments his father's mid-life turn from the `young' idealistic, radical Saul who could laugh at himself, to an `old' more conservative, disillusioned Saul, with more answers than questions, what shines through in this book despite the constant upheavals in the older Bellow's life situations, is the deep, abiding love and passionate concern that father and son felt and showed for each other - through probing `real conversations' and various shared activities - throughout the father's long, complicated life. Greg points out autobiographic elements of his father's fiction, and notes the pain often visited on family and friends who perceived themselves depicted in specific literary works. But unlike many scholars, Greg Bellow's interest is not in gossip, but in trying to bring clarity to bear on a father who came closer to expressing his true emotions in fiction rather than in life.
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Format: Paperback
Greg Bellow, oldest son of Saul, has written a memoir of his life with (and, often, without) his father, and with the extended family and world his father created. For anyone familiar with the Bellow story, it will come as no shock that there is a lot of heartache in the story. Saul Bellow was married five times, carried his disputes with his wives and others around him into his books, and was known as a curmudgeon in his later life.

(Tolstoy's comment that "every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way" comes to mind reading the story of the Bellow family.)

It is difficult to evaluate a book like this one. You read it because it is about Saul, but it is the memoir of Greg. It is Greg's story, but he knows that what the reader wants to hear about is Saul. But he can't tell his story without drifting away from Saul at times.

While seemingly not a great premise for a book, the topic of Saul Bellow is important enough that the book adds to our understanding of one of the great writers of the twentieth century. While hardly objective, the son's memoir allows a viewpoint on Saul's pains and the pains he inflicted on others that it would be hard for an objective biographer to achieve. A reader should, of course, read it with a grain of salt. But a Bellow lover should read it.

Greg Bellow is a (retired) psychotherapist, and his training and experience both adds to and subtracts from the story. Sometimes his training provides insight into Saul's behavior, but at other times the analysis gets a bit in the way of the flow of the story.

Of particular interest is the author's evaluation of the evolution of the "Young Saul" into the "Old Saul". In his youth Bellow was a very progressive voice.
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Format: Hardcover
Written by Greg Bellow, this memoir has the appropriate appelation affixed to it 'A Son's Memoir'. With that in mind, one might make the assumption that growing up with Saul would be loaded with a lifetime of memories, but that is not exactly the case. While still a young boy, Greg's parents divorced and Saul would often parent from a distance as he went through other marriages which would include other children. This is not to imply that Bellow was an abysmal excuse for a father, but he was self-absorbed, a narcissist, and remote.
It might be easy to write this book off as a very one sided account of a person's tortured life and brilliant career or a "daddy dearest" portrait rife with parental failures, but what really emerges from this memoir is an interesting look at Bellow that takes into account the nature of the writer's work and Bellow's personal history which included never really fitting in as the son of immigrant parents who tried to assimilate himself into a culture that was often at odds with his upbringing and family dynamic. At times, it seemed to me that Bellow straddled two worlds while not being truly a part of either.
The real trick to elevating this memoir beyond the norm is son Greg's career as a psychotherapist. Rather than just writing his father off as difficult guy, he has an inordinate understanding of the influences that set Saul on his creative and personal paths and how they influenced his fiction as well as his personal relationships.
Not overly wordy and actually sort of a short memoir, Greg Bellow does a nice job when it comes to parsing his words and creating a thoughtful memoir based on his point of view as a son and his knowledge of his father not only based on personal experience and observation but on the observation of other family members.
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