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Ham on Rye: A Novel Paperback – February 27, 2007

4.3 out of 5 stars 457 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews


'Very funny, very sad, and despite its self-congratulatory tone, honest in most of the right places. In many ways, Bukowski may have been the perfect writer to describe post-war southern California - a land of wide, flat spaces with nothing worth seeing, so you might as well vanish into yourself. In an age of conformity, Bukowski wrote about the people nobody wanted to be: the ugly, the selfish, the lonely, the mad.' - The Observer --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

About the Author

Charles Bukowski is one of America’s best-known contemporary writers of poetry and prose and, many would claim, its most influential and imitated poet. He was born in 1920 in Andernach, Germany, to an American soldier father and a German mother, and brought to the United States at the age of two. He was raised in Los Angeles and lived there for over fifty years. He died in San Pedro, California, on March 9, 1994, at the age of seventy-three, shortly after completing his last novel, Pulp.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Ecco; Reprint edition (July 29, 2014)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 006117758X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0061177583
  • Product Dimensions: 5.3 x 0.6 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 10.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (457 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #7,535 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Eric Petersen on November 29, 1999
Format: Paperback
Most fans of the late, great Charles Bukowski, myself included, list Ham On Rye as their favorite Bukowski novel - and rightfully so. This novel is actually a thinly-veiled autobiography of the man we knew and loved as "The Bard of Booze and Broads." We see through the eyes of young Henry Chinaski as he comes of age in Depression-era America, the product of a dysfunctional and physically abusive household. From his early childhood as a desperately lonely, yet antisocial little boy to his adolescence (where he struggles with crippling acne and develops a love of literature), we see the genesis of a great writer. Bukowski pulls no punches (no pun intended) in his descriptions of abuse suffered at the hands of his father, a coldhearted, arrogant, sadistic SOB. The reader is drawn in to Bukowski's passionate determination to be the exact opposite of what proper society tries to mold its youth into. A powerful and heartbreaking read. Great work, Buk! R.I.P - you will be missed!
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Format: Paperback
I have been returning to the work of Charles Bukowski (1920 -- 1994) after reading his novel "Factotum" and watching the movie based upon it. Bukowski's novel "Ham on Rye" (1982) is a coming-of age novel in that it tells the story of Bukowski's protagonist, Henry Chinaski, from his birth to his young manhood, ending with the attack on Pearl Harbor. ("Factotum", written in 1978 covers the next period of Chinaski's life, after he has been rejected for the draft and wanders from city to city in search of work.) Chinaski is based loosely on Bukowski's own life; but "Ham on Rye" and Bukowski's other novels are, after all, works of fiction and should be read as such.

The scene of "Ham on Rye" is Los Angeles during the Great Depression, particularly the lower middle-class homes in which Chinaski grows up, as families struggle to survive and to escape from poverty. Bukowski is at his best in describing dingy homes, streets, schools, and desperate people.

But "Ham on Rye" is a coming-of-age book told with irony and twists. It seemingly mocks the story of self-discovery and self-awakening common to these distinctively American books, but in the end I think it follows the pattern of a coming-of-age story in spite of itself. Most American coming-of-age books recount the life of a young person and end when that person comes to some crisis which he meets and, thus, attains a degree of understanding of himself which he carries through life. Bukowski's book tells the story of an unhappy childhood, as Chinaski is subjected to an overbearing father and frequent beatings. In addition, as an early adolescent, Chinaski develops a terrible case of acne which exacerbates his tendency to aloneness as well as his anger and rebeliousness.
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Format: Paperback
Depending upon your taste in literature, Charles Bukowski was either a brilliant writer who has yet to receive to respect he truly deserves or nothing more than a drunk with a typewriter. Most of those who love Bukowski seem to have discovered him through his poetry, but Ham on Rye was my introduction to the author, and it remains my favorite work of his. In fact, I think Ham on Rye is probably the best coming-of-age story in American literature, far superior to Catcher in the Rye. Although Salinger's novel captures your attention when you're thirteen, it tends to suffer terribly when you reflect back on it as a more mature individual and recognize the narcissicism and insincerity at the heart of Holden Caulfield's attitude towards the world. Ham on Rye does not romanticize the innocence of children and depict adults as "phonies." It is Bukowski's own thinly veiled account of his childhood and adolescence in Los Angeles between the two world wars, as told through the eyes of his alter ego, Henry Chinaski. Ham on Rye shares the same brutal humor and breezy prose style as Post Office and Women, but it is much more tightly focused than any of Bukowski's prior novels, which tended to be more episodic than anything else. For that reason I think it ultimately achieves a sort of lasting resonance with the reader that is lacking in much of Bukowski's other prose work, for all of the energy and spontaneity his writing always possessed. Ham on Rye is alternatively hilarious and horrifying, but it always remains truthful in a way that few coming-of-age novels are. Anyone new to Charles Bukowski should start with this.
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Format: Paperback
When I was reading reviews and thinking about my experience with Ham on Rye (my second outing with Bukowski, after having read Pulp), I initially thought I would give it 1 or 2 stars based on how much I disliked the character. I started checking out Bukowski after doing a thesis on the importance of Beat lit, and noting his proximity to the time frame and stylistic similarities to the writers I so adore.

I disliked Henry Chinaski because, in my mind, he felt real like a lot of the characters I had loved in my favorite books, but instead of having a glowing outlook on life despite setbacks he just let it fester inside him and make him bitter, and I ended up resenting Chinaski for most of his personality (he comes off as a chauvanistic, alcoholic, bitter prick to be completely frank). That coupled with the fact that it seemed as though he was parading around how bad his childhood was because he was poor, had bad acne, etc it started to feel like a pissing contest with no one in particular in mind. But the more I thought about it and dissected him, there were portions of that personality I loved that would peek out from under the foil of a disenchanted youth, angry at the world. There's an odd sort of humanity in Chinaski, and it's very unique to this novel.

This book is also very funny, if you don't take it (or yourself) too seriously. I don't know that Bukowski meant it to be humorous in a satirical or ironic sense, but if you don't internalize the things Chinaski thinks, says, or does, and just take them at face value in context of the rest of his personality, it actually is quite funny. But be forewarned, if you are offended easily you should turn back now. I have yet to check out Bukowski's poetry, but I think I will now that I reflect on this novel.
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