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Humboldt's Gift (Penguin Classics) Paperback – October 28, 2008
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About the Author
His first two novels, Dangling Man (1944) and The Victim (1947) are penetrating, Kafka-like psychological studies. In 1948 he was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship and spent two years in Paris and traveling in Europe, where he began his picaresque novel The Adventures of Augie March, which went on to win the National Book Award for fiction in 1954. His later books of fiction include Seize the Day (1956); Henderson the Rain King (1959); Mosby's Memoirs and Other Stories (1968); Mr. Sammler's Planet (1970); Humboldt's Gift (1975), which won the Pulitzer Prize; The Dean's December (1982); More Die of Heartbreak (1987); Theft (1988); The Bellarosa Connection (1989);The Actual (1996); Ravelstein (2000); and, most recently, Collected Stories(2001). Bellow has also produced a prolific amount of non-fiction, collected in To Jerusalem and Back, a personal and literary record of his sojourn in Israel during several months in 1975, and It All Adds Up, a collection of memoirs and essays.
Bellow's many awards include the International Literary Prize for Herzog, for which he became the first American to receive the prize; the Croix de Chevalier des Arts et Lettres, the highest literary distinction awarded by France to non-citizens; the B'nai B'rith Jewish Heritage Award for "excellence in Jewish Literature"; and America's Democratic Legacy Award of the Anti-Defamation League of B'nai B'rith, the first time this award has been made to a literary personage. In 1976 Bellow was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature "for the human understanding and subtle analysis of contemporary culture that are combined in his work."
Top Customer Reviews
Humboldt once had a goal to raise the esteem of the poet's role in American society. In 1952 he believed an Adlai Stevenson presidency would allow the involvement of more intellectuals in government; when this hope crumbled, he sought and won an ephemeral poetry chair at Princeton, where he and Citrine concocted a strangely Sophoclean movie treatment about a doomed Arctic expedition and a man who became a cannibal. This was not the last of their show business aspirations; Citrine's play, "Von Trenck," based loosely on Humboldt's life and therefore vexatious to Humboldt, was a hit on the theater circuit and was made into a movie.
Citrine's dubious fortune attracts all kinds of problems with love and money. His ex-wife Denise is straining him over an uncomfortable divorce settlement; his new girlfriend, a much younger woman named Renata, takes advantage of him and leaves him stranded in Madrid to babysit her son. A simple poker night results in an undesirable association with a small-time gangster named Rinaldo Cantabile from which he can't seem to extricate himself.Read more ›
This is a story of Charlie Citrine, a sucessful author who finds himself struggling for meaning while confronting the ghosts of memory, particularly in the relationship with his friend, mentor; and, at many points, antagonist, Von Humboldt Fletcher. Curiously, the novel is thrown into action and suspense through Citrine's dealings with a minor gangster, Cantible. The relationship, though, turns out to be one that brings Citrine back to the "here and now." Just as he is on the brink of being lost in transcendental wanderings, Citrine is snapped back to his resposibility by Cantible.
And, from such an unlikely source, the novel begins its reach towards resolution: to be fully human, Citrine must be spiritual but remain part of the world. Meaning and true spirituality come through compassion, empathy, caring. Once Citrine and the reader discover this, the novel reaches a resolution that marked the end of an era in many of Bellow's themes. This novel is simply a must for anyone who has enjoyed any of Bellow's earlier works, as well as for anyone who, like Chalie Citrine, struggle to find a place for the soul, the human spirit, in a world that seems to have forgotten such a thing may exist.
Humboldt's Gift is not this. It takes the time to revel in the sheer joy of words. The characters are developed in depth. Bellow prevents them from becoming interchangeable, and this is as it should be, for people are not interchangeable. Bellow is obsessed with bringing every nuance and quirk of his characters to your doorstep. You could probably even pick them out on the street. What's more, Bellow has succeeded in bridging the amorphous world of high-minded ideas and the tangible world of reality with a prose style that is conversational and wise. You are learning something about what it means to be alive here. You are learning something about the breadth of the human condition. You are learning something about what it means to be American and what that means given the backdrop of the rest of history. If you would find such a journey tedious, don't bother reading this book. If you are anxious to take such a trip, take this book with you as a map.
Some of Bellow's books -- Sammler's Planet and Henderson the Rain King, in parts -- can be overly pendantic and essay-ish. But not this one. This one is a masterpiece of English literature. You are missing an American experience -- love it or leave -- if you are not reading this book.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
"Humboldt's Gift" may be Bellow's best novel. Charles Citrine, a successful writer under harassment from various quarters, is the main character and narrator of the story;... Read morePublished 27 days ago by HH
A great confessional and somewhat autobiographical novel centered on an academic in Chicago who is challenged by a gangster in particular and the female sex in general. Read morePublished 1 month ago by Duncan H. Haynes
In my opinion the narrative form is sloppy and the focus sardonic humor rather than story. Book was chosen by a book club of acquaintances. Read morePublished 2 months ago by Jane E
Humboldt's Gift won the Pulitzer Prize in 1976 and contributed to Bellow's winning the Nobel Prize for Literature in the same year. Read morePublished 3 months ago by Igor Eliseev
There are some unique things about this book. The protagonist, Charlie Citrine, allows himself to be taken advantage of constantly, and doesn't hold it against the villains. Read morePublished 4 months ago by LF
I remember a time when people used the word, ‘classy’ to denote something refined and snotty. Often it was a poorly lit restaurant heavily upholstered in red and dark brown. Read morePublished 4 months ago by Randall L. Wilson
Not a common story and not an easy read, but definitely a great book! It was writtem in fairly lengthy sentences which make it a bit complicated for the average reader but the... Read morePublished 10 months ago by Annie O.