Harold Griffin's Reviews > Herzog

Herzog by Saul Bellow
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's review
Oct 20, 2009

it was amazing
Read in October, 2009

I grimace at how long it took me to discover this master work.

Herzog is a highly intellectual 1960's man much aggrieved, most specifically by the loss of his brilliant spouse to his one-legged "friend" Valentine, but also by the the decline and fall of just about everything. (Imagine how he would feel today!)

Through letters written but not sent, Herzog wrestles with many questions:how to avenge himself, how to regain his beloved daughter, whether to accept the affections of his friend Ramona, how to understand his personal and family history. Above all he wrestles with one overarching question: is it right for him to accept simple happiness, to accept the pleasures of daily life, the charms of nature and of sensual love, or must he, as an educated intellectual, dedicate his life fully to the understanding of larger questions, to answer questions with which philosphers have struggled for hundreds of years.

The progression of the book is, by and large, a progression from madness to possible redemption. I found the book like a perfect onion, with Bellow unpeeling the layers of his character from surface to essence, from present to past. Much of the movement of the book is within Herzog's mind and memory, but as Herzog seeks justice and his daughter, there are priceless incidents in courtrooms, a trip to Chicago in which Herzog obtains his father's pistol and Czarist-era currency, and a highway collision which nicely ties together these events.

This book is neither misogynistic nor filled with "rant." It is a thoughtful tale of a troubled soul who, through both ideas and attempted action, seeks to cope with a world utterly different than the one of his childhood.

This book is not for everyone. I felt acutely the shallowness of my own knowledge of philosophy, and consequent inability to understand fully many of the philosophical issues that trouble Herzog. But the book is a masterful probing of a human mind and of issues that are no less important today than when this was written.
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Reese Harold,

I pulled up your profile page today with the intention of thanking you for adding the Rabbit questions to the Never-Ending Quiz. I feel younger when I occasionally encounter questions about books that were written before texting became writing.
Anyway, I stopped, not "for death," but to read your review of HERZOG. Loved it. It beats a "five-cent synthesis."

Don't lament the recency of your discovery of this novel. I say this because I know the disadvantages of reading the book before one has had enough "life experiences" to appreciate it. I'm thankful that HERZOG (like MOBY-DICK and THE CENTAUR) is one of the few unloved books that I returned to when I was old enough to appreciate it. The novel was not written for college sophomores who haven't spent AT LEAST a decade "convalescing" and examining their lives. If HERZOG can be "with us" either "late" or "soon," late is better.

Thanks again,

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