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Saturday, April 09, 2005

Bellow Remembered

IN MEMORIAM: Saul Bellow

By Deepika Shetty

The literary world is mourning the death of noted author Saul Bellow. He died of natural causes at the age of 89. The master of comic melancholy was hailed as one of America's greatest novelists.

The son of Russian immigrants, he was born Solomon Bellows on July 10, 1915, in Lachine, Quebec. When he was 9, his family moved from Montreal to Chicago. He dropped the final "s" from his last name and changed his first name to Saul when he began publishing his writing in the 1940s.

A trained anthropologist he went from writing book reviews for 10 US dollars a piece to winning the Pulitzer Prize, the Nobel Prize in 1976, and three National Book Awards. Among his critically acclaimed works were "Humboldt's Gift" and "Herzog".

"Humboldt's Gift" has been hailed as one of his most personal novels. Bellow described it as "a comic book about death." It culminates in a graveyard scene. The novel was also personal in other ways. The main character, Charlie Citrine, is an aging Chicago writer chasing a younger woman while trying to keep a former wife from ruining him financially.

Critics say like his characters, his life was an evolution from the unbearable, but comic passion of the Old World, to the unbearable, but comic alienation of the New World. Remembering him, noted writer Philip Roth said: "The backbone of 20th-century American literature has been provided by two novelists - William Faulkner and Saul Bellow."

Undeterred by the Nobel, Literature's highest honour, Bellow kept writing even in his 80s. His more recent work included "The Actual," a sentimental novella published in 1997, and in 2000 he published "Ravelstein" - a novel based on the life of his late friend, Allan Bloom, author of "The Closing of the American Mind."

Bellow had five wives, three sons and, at age 84, a daughter.