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Herzog
by Saul Bellow


Amazon.com
A novel complex, compelling, absurd and realistic, Herzog became a classic almost as soon as it was published in 1964. In it Saul Bellow tells the tale of Moses E. Herzog, a tragically confused intellectual who suffers from the breakup of his second marriage, the general failure of his life and the specter of growing up Jewish in the middle part of the 20th century. He responds to his personal crisis by sending out a series of letters to all kinds of people. The letters in total constitute a thoughtful examination of his own life and that which has occurred around him. What emerges is not always pretty, but serves as gritty foundation for this absorbing novel.


From: Jane Niemeier jniemeie@hotmail.com Date: Sunday, October 17, 2004 10:43 PM I think that everyone must be waiting for someone elsento start this thread, so I will take the plunge. I liked this book, but I got bogged down by some of Herzog's philosophical thoughts. I had to read many of his letters twice. Herzog seems to be falling apart when we meet him at his house in Massachusetts. The book recounts Herzog's whole life, including the events that have led to his breakdown. I have the impression that Herzog's friends are people who enjoy giving lectures to others, telling them how to lead their lives. Herzog does like to listen. Herzog seems to have picked the worst possible wife. Madeline is extravagant, unfaithful and unpleasant to be around. Herzog somewhat deserves the treatment that he gets from her after the way he dumped his wife for the Japanese lady and then started cheating on the Japanese lady when he met Madeline. One scene made me laugh out loud. It was towards the end of the book when Herzog is explaining why he was discharged from the army in WWII. He says how distressed he was that the psychiatrist accused him of being childish. He says that he wasn't dismissed from the army for being childish. I thought that there would be no young males left in the army if the authorities started dismissing men for being childish! (Okay, guys, don't be insulted here. I am thinking of my students who went into the army right out of high school.) Jane
From: R Bavetta xyzrbavetta@prodigy.net Date: Sunday, October 17, 2004 11:06 PM I bogged down in the middle of this and threw in the towel. It just seemed to go on and on and on and on with the same complaints and variations of the same letter. Did I miss anything? R There is nothing to do with a day except to live it. -----Richard Wilbur
From: Beej Connor connorva@mindspring.com Date: Sunday, October 17, 2004 11:17 PM I'm only on page 66 but really enjoying this book. I kinda feel like I'm caught in the mind of a frantic mouse in a maze. Beej
From: Barbara Moors bar647@aol.com Date: Sunday, October 17, 2004 11:25 PM That sounds like a good description from what I know about it, Beej. I'm looking forward to it. As soon as I finish Glass Menagerie for CC, I'm starting on this one. Barb
From: Dale Short xyzdshort@bham.rr.com Date: Tuesday, October 19, 2004 12:42 AM The opening of this one captivated me, but the middle part I'm finding, like Ruth, to be tougher sledding. I'm planning to plow through, though I may be a week or two finishing up. One of the early images, of a life in devastation and transition, seems so real to me I feel as if i've lived it. Maybe I have{G}: Tall bearded grass and locust and maple seedlings surrounded him in the yard. When he opened his eyes in the night, the stars were near like spiritual bodies. Fires, of course; gases--minerals, heat, atoms, but eloquent at five in the morning to a man lying in a hammock, wrapped in his overcoat... >>Dale in Ala. http://www.writerstoolkit.com
From: Beej Connor connorva@mindspring.com Date: Thursday, October 21, 2004 09:03 PM This is slow reading but I'm still enjoying it immensely. It has to be one of the most thorough character studies I've ever read. Madeleine is a pain in the patootie, but at the point where I am in the book, I would love to be able to reach between the pages and shake Herzog out by his ears. He's just so clueless! Beej
From: R Bavetta xyzrbavetta@prodigy.net Date: Thursday, October 21, 2004 09:55 PM My urge to shake Herzog reached such proportions that I threw him out of my life. Enough already. R There is nothing to do with a day except to live it. -----Richard Wilbur
From: Barbara Moors bar647@aol.com Date: Sunday, November 07, 2004 09:09 PM Is anyone else still reading Herzog? I have been inching through it probably reading it the wrong way, a few pages at a time before I go to bed at night. I was getting tired of hearing about Madeline, etc. Finally, this morning, I sat down in my favorite reading chair and just read nonstop for a hour or so. As I did, I got into the section that describes his childhood and parents in Montreal. I am hooked. And, I'm finally starting to "get" it. His letters to everyone are starting to fit now as a kind of frantic effort at making both himself and others make some sense out of things. Maybe, also, it's my mood post-election. But, I'm starting to realize what a very good book this is. When we were proposing books for the Reading List last year, I wanted to nominate one by Bellow. My son, who is a major Bellow fan, suggested Henderson, the Rain King because of its humor. When Herzog got picked, he said, "Whoa, that is one of Bellow's most complex books. They may not like it." I think he was referring to all of the literary and philosophical references. I am missing a lot of those and it did affect my understanding in the beginning. But, I'm getting more of them toward the middle and understand enough without them. So, now, I'm wondering if there will be anyone but my son left to talk to about this when I finish. BTW, I might be able to coax him to post a note about it if we are still talking. Barb
From: Sherry Keller shkell@earthlink.net Date: Monday, November 08, 2004 06:48 AM Barb, my life is in such flux right now, I haven't even started it. But I plan on reading it when I get to Florida. I may be two or three months late, but I have every intention of reading it. Sherry
From: Dale Short xyzdshort@bham.rr.com Date: Monday, November 08, 2004 10:26 AM Barb: I've gotten sidetracked from HERZOG too, but definitely plan to finish. Probably about the time Sherry does. >>Dale in Ala. http://www.writerstoolkit.com
From: Dottie Randall randallj@ix.netcom.com Date: Monday, November 08, 2004 10:39 AM Well -- in case you missed it, Barb, here's a bit from a post I made up in CR topic Books to Travel By or With -- Having finished the reading labyrinth book -- gushed over in its own thread -- I'm turning back to Herzog and finding him less appealing than I had in the first quarter of the book BUT I'm finishing it -- because I know Bellow is often a bit up and down for me yet I always end up loving the book once I finish. And, Barb, I think your comments just clarified for me WHY I feel Bellow is sometimes up and down for me -- it is when I read little bits at a time that it is slower and I slog along not quite enthralled -- Bellow needs to be drunk down in long gulps to be appreciated, I think. I can do that -- so now that I'm back to Herzog -- I'll see how it works. Of course, there's the Sherry/Dottie/Jane/and -- anyone else? -- factor to deal with -- our mantra must be -- life WILL get back to normal one day -- life WILL get .... {G} Dottie no se puede vivir sin amar
From: Barbara Moors bar647@aol.com Date: Thursday, November 11, 2004 11:17 PM Thanks, Sherry, Dale and Dottie. I'll be here to talk when you do finish. I had 2 nights of parent conferences this week with associated progress reports to write so I still have about 50 pages to go. I think you're right though, Dottie. When I tried the few pages approach this week again, I didn't like it as much. But, one longer section of time that I was able to steal from the rest of my schedule was great. I feel a strong effect from the Holocaust in his writing, the shock that his own people could be that vulnerable. I'll post some examples of this soon. Tonight, I'm just trying to come down from the nervous high of conferences. I'm sure this is one of the sides of teaching that Jane doesn't miss. Barb
From: Dottie Randall randallj@ix.netcom.com Date: Saturday, November 13, 2004 01:31 PM Beej -- I'm agreeing with your earlier line about this one -- "I kinda feel like I'm caught in the mind of a frantic mouse in a maze." Herzog seems to me a frantic HUMAN caught in the maze of life. The letters and mental asides and notes and meanderings -- it's all indicative of that "mental" work of living when one is a thinking being -- intellectual? -- elitist? -- someone who analyzes the beejeezus out of everything and everybody? (internal dialogue: 'Well, hello, fancy meeting yourself here. You know, you really DO think far TOO much. Yes, I know I do -- how about you?') Paranoid? Egotistical? Obsessive-compulsive? Manic-depressive? All present and accounted for -- humanity in a nutshell named Herzog? The quintessential Jewish -- or Catholic -- or any other "guilt heavy" religious background, no? I am loving this book, BTW. The timeframe. The settings. The people. The connections and reconnections and the crossed lines and unintentionally hysterically wrong connections and disconnections. This book could be frustrating, hysterically funny or depressing as all get out -- it all depends on one's general outlook on humankind and life on this planet -- just my opinion. Barb, I will definitely look forward to your son's visit here and his thoughts on this book. Now, in case you are curious -- I'm barely past the halfway point -- so I'm still not moving really fast on this one -- but I AM most definitely getting inside the book now -- and I'm finding it to be grand reading. And, Barb, I've made some connections to recent politics -- so you aren't alone in that -- and I don't think it's such a stretch to make that connection. Here's a segment that I just read and which leads me to ask -- WHERE the HECK is Candy? -- she needs to read Herzog IMO. "Dear Dr. Schrodinger, In What Is Life? you say that in all of nature only man hesitates to cause pain. As destruction is the master-method by which evolution produces new types, the reluctance to cause pain may express a human will to obstruct natural law. Christianity and its parent religion, a few short millennia, with frightful reverses... The train had stopped, the door was already shutting when Herzog roused himself and squeezed through. He caught a strap. The express flew uptown. It emptied and refilled at Times Square, but he did not sit down. It was too hard to fight your way out again from a seat. Now where were we? In your remarks on entropy... How the organism maintains itself against death -- in your words, against thermodynamic equilibrium...Being an unstable organization of matter, the body threatens to rush away from us. It leaves. It is real. It! Not we! Not I! This organism, while it has the power to hold its own form and suck what it needs from its environment, attracting a negative stream of entropy, the being of other things which it uses, returning the residue to the world in simpler form. Dung. Nitrogenous wastes. Ammonia. But the reluctance to cause pain coupled with the necessity to devour...a peculiar human trick is the result, which consists in admitting and denying evils at the same time, To have a human life, and also an inhuman life. In fact, to have everything to combine all elements with immense ingenuity and greed. To bite, to swallow. At the same time to pity your food. To have sentiment. At the same time to behave brutally. It has been suggested (and why not!)that reluctance to cause pain is actually an extreme form of, a delicious form of sensuality, and that we increase the luxuries of pain by the injection of a moral pathos. Thus working both sides of the street. Nevertheless, there are moral realities, Herzog assured the entire world as he held his strap in the speeding car, as surely as there are molecular and atomic ones. However, it is necessary today to entertain the very worst possibilities openly. In fact, we have no choice as to that...." So, Candy, are you reading Herzog? If not -- WHY not? Jump in. We are muddling along slowly enough for you to catch up surely. {G} This book is an absolute romp -- oh are we humans funny! What's it all about Moshe -- er, Alfie? And yet -- if it isn't about "us" -- what IS it about? Dottie no se puede vivir sin amar
From: Barbara Moors bar647@aol.com Date: Sunday, November 14, 2004 07:37 PM And, can't you just relate to it, Dottie? I write letters to people in my head all of the time. In fact, I didn't even think about it until I started reading this. With people that I actually do correspond with in real time, I often can't remember what I've only composed in my head and what I've actually sent (mostly in email now). Also, I've decided that you are doing yourself a disservice if you try to read this fast. I've read bits of it over and over before I finally "got it." My son has been sick, trying to teach, compose music and play with a band at the same time. I'm hoping that I can still prevail upon him though. Barb
From: Barbara Moors bar647@aol.com Date: Tuesday, November 16, 2004 11:08 PM I finished Herzog tonight and had the thought that this is an oddly relevant book for this political time. How could any thinking person not be a bit undone by what is happening around us? Moses Herzog is a wonderfully fallible, vulnerable character. I started out being hugely impatient with him and moved to the point of loving him a bit in the end. Barb

 
Saul Bellow
Saul Bellow

 
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