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

3.9 out of 5 stars 137 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 the Audio CD edition.


"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.

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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 (137 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #953,958 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 Verified Purchase
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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Format: Hardcover
A few days ago I finished reading Saul Bellow's Henderson the Rain King, which was a great and entertaining read. The basic premise is comedic: a grumpy, spoiled, acerbic, rich American in his 50's seeks to discover meaning and wisdom and fulfillment by leaving New York and traveling to Africa to live and commune with a primitive African tribe. If this induces at least a subtle chuckle, then it is safe to say that you'd be laughing frequently through this hilarious and sometimes ribald romp. Not enough? Then consider that it has been named as one of the 100 best English-language novels of the 20th century by the well-respected Modern Library.
Henderson is an independently wealthy man in his 50's who is unhappily married to his second wife, and when he gets to the point where he can stand his meager existence no longer and the trivial aimlessness of it all, he hires a guide to take him to the remote, African sahara, to the most primitive tribe they can find. They first end up with the Arnewi tribe, where Henderson becomes obsessed with the tribe's superstitious obsession with the frogs in the cistern, which keeps them from watering their cattle, and so in his attempt to rid them of this malady he ends up blowing up the whole thing while fending off the advances of a large women who is considered a beauty due to her "bittahness." After destroying the cistern, Henderson and his guide escape and try again with the Wariri tribe where he impresses the natives with his unparalleled feats of strength (Festivus, anyone?), which then propels him unwittingly into the position of sungo (rain king) when rain immediately follows.
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