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Obituary: Saul Bellow

Saul Bellow in 1965
Saul Bellow was a huge literary influence

With an awareness of death and the miracle of life at the foundation of his work, Saul Bellow's novels brought him huge success, and both the Nobel and Pulitzer Prize. He is cited by many contemporary authors as a critical creative influence.

Bellow's message was one of hope and affirmation. He said, "In the greatest confusion, there is still an open channel to the soul."

Many of his novels were set in Chicago where his poor Russian-Jewish parents moved when he was a child. He later reported, "I saw mayhem all around me. By the age of eight, I knew what sickness and death were."

A hostile urban environment and the struggle to lead a decent life would become one of Bellow's strongest themes.

His formative years were also steeped in his Jewish heritage, but he turned from this "suffocating orthodoxy" to enjoy the works of such writers as Mark Twain and Edgar Allan Poe.

International reputation

As well as the English, French and Yiddish influences of his upbringing, Bellow's books were exercises in the anthropology and sociology he studied at Wisconsin.
Saul Bellow in 1969
Bellow had a tough upbringing

During his post-graduate course, he realised that, "every time I worked on my thesis, it turned out to be a story".

The die was cast. From 1944 and the publication of Bellow's first novel Dangling Man, the writer and teacher produced a body of work that ensured his position as one of America's most powerful voices.

He received the National Book Award, his first of three, in 1954 for The Adventures of Augie March and, 10 years later, his international reputation was assured with Herzog. An intricate study of the resilience of New York and Chicago Jews, it is regarded by many critics as Bellow's finest work.

Praised for 'irony and compassion'

A meticulous craftsman given to frequent revisions of his work, Bellow spent eight years writing the novel Humboldt's Gift. This brought him a Pulitzer Prize in 1975, and a year later, Bellow became the seventh American writer to receive the Nobel Prize for Literature.

In the greatest confusion, there is still an open channel to the soul
Saul Bellow

The Swedish Academy praised Bellow's "flashing irony" and "burning compassion", and applauded the typical Bellow hero "who keeps trying to find a foothold during his wanderings in our tottering world, one who can never relinquish his faith that the value of life depends on its dignity, not its success".

In his acceptance lecture, Bellow criticised modern writers for presenting a limited and distracted picture of mankind.

Saul Bellow in 1995
Bellow criticised modern writers

He felt they should present a more coherent account of "what we human beings are... and what this life is for".

In Bellow's 1959 novel Henderson the Rain King, the title character was a man of financial riches but spiritual desolation, rescued by African tribal leaders, and applauded as a seeker of higher truth. Bellow always said that of all his heroes, Henderson most resembled himself, and the book remained one of his favourites.

He continued to seek the higher truth, writing until well into his eighties, explaining that "a writer always has subjects laid aside".

Although divorced four times, Saul Bellow's own much-stated belief in the miracle of life was reinforced when his fifth wife made him a father again at the age of 84.

Nobel Prize novelist Bellow dies
06 Apr 05 |  Entertainment

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