61 of 71 people found the following review helpful
What Makes Life Meaningful?,
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This review is from: Henderson the Rain King (Classic, 20th-Century, Penguin) (Paperback)
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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Initial post: Aug 13, 2008 12:31:09 PM PDT
Roger Brunyate says:
Before writing my own review, I looked at those already on the site. I found yours to be so elegant and well-balanced that I realized there was little point in trying to add to it. I agree with everything that you say, including the observation that Henderson is hard to like. For me, though, that was a serious stumbling-block that didn't go away -- and in the end, I thought I might as well say so.
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