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The Adventures of Augie March

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Augie comes on stage with one of literature’s most famous opening lines. “I am an American, Chicago born, and go at things as I have taught myself, free-style, and will make the record in my own way: first to knock, first admitted.” It’s the “Call me Ishmael” of mid-20th-century American fiction. (For the record, Bellow was born in Canada.) Or it would be if Ishmael had been more like Tom Jones with a philosophical disposition. With this teeming book Bellow returned a Dickensian richness to the American novel. As he makes his way to a full brimming consciousness of himself, Augie careens himself through numberless occupations, and countless mentors and exemplars, all the while enchanting us with the slapdash American music of his voice.

586 pages, Paperback

First published September 18, 1953

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About the author

Saul Bellow

204 books1,673 followers
Saul Bellow was born in Lachine, Quebec, a suburb of Montreal, in 1915, and was raised in Chicago. He attended the University of Chicago, received his Bachelor's degree from Northwestern University in 1937, with honors in sociology and anthropology, did graduate work at the University of Wisconsin, and served in the Merchant Marines during World War II.

Mr. Bellow's first novel, Dangling Man, was published in 1944, and his second, The Victim, in 1947. In 1948 he was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship and spent two years in Paris and traveling in Europe, where he began The Adventures of Augie March,, which won the National Book Award for fiction in 1954. Later books include Seize The Day (1956), Henderson The Rain King (1959), Herzog (1964), Mosby's Memoirs and Other Stories (1968), and Mr. Sammler's Planet (1970). Humboldt's Gift (1975), was awarded the Pulitzer Prize. Both Herzog and Mr. Sammler's Planet were awarded the National Book Award for fiction. Mr. Bellow's first non-fiction work, To Jerusalem and Back: A Personal Account, published on October 25,1976, is his personal and literary record of his sojourn in Israel during several months in 1975.

In 1965 Mr. Bellow was awarded the International Literary Prize for Herzog, becoming the first American to receive the prize. In January 1968 the Republic of France awarded him the Croix de Chevalier des Arts et Lettres, the highest literary distinction awarded by that nation to non-citizens, and in March 1968 he received the B'nai B'rith Jewish Heritage Award for "excellence in Jewish literature". In November 1976 he was awarded the America's Democratic Legacy Award of the Anti-Defamation League of B'nai B'rith, the first time this award was made to a literary personage.

A playwright as well as a novelist, Mr. Bellow was the author of The Last Analysis and of three short plays, collectively entitled Under the Weather, which were produced on Broadway in 1966. He contributed fiction to Partisan Review, Playboy, Harper's Bazaar, The New Yorker, Esquire, and to literary quarterlies. His criticism appeared in The New York Times Book Review, Horizon, Encounter, The New Republic, The New Leader, and elsewhere. During the 1967 Arab-lsraeli conflict, he served as a war correspondent for Newsday. He taught at Bard College, Princeton University, and the University of Minnesota, and was a member of the Committee on Social Thought at the University of Chicago.

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Profile Image for Vit Babenco.
1,375 reviews3,190 followers
May 7, 2021
I wonder how picaresque a life of any individual may look from the outside.
A little man in a big world, all alone and lost in a crowd – how to find one’s walk of life and what way to choose?
Friends, human pals, men and brethren, there is no brief, digest, or shorthand way to say where it leads. Crusoe, alone with nature, under heaven, had a busy, complicated time of it with the unhuman itself, and I am in a crowd that yields results with much more difficulty and reluctance and am part of it myself.

And wherever one is going one can’t be sure that a blind alley doesn’t lie ahead.
The spirit of man, enslaved, sobs in the silence of boredom, the bitter antagonist. Boredom therefore can arise from the cessation of habitual functions, even though these may be boring too. It is also the shriek of unused capacities, the doom of serving no great end or design, or contributing to no master force. The obedience that is not willingly given because nobody knows how to request it. The harmony that is not accomplished. This lies behind boredom.

Fortune and misfortune, adventures and misadventures, conceptions and misconceptions, understanding and misunderstanding: that’s the stuff the human life is made of.
Profile Image for Jeffrey Keeten.
Author 2 books247k followers
January 17, 2021
”I am an American, Chicago born--Chicago, that somber city--and go at things as I have taught myself, free-style, and will make the record in my own way: first to knock, first admitted; sometimes an innocent knock, sometimes a not so innocent. But a man’s character is his fate, says Heraclitus, and in the end there isn’t any way to disguise the nature of the knocks by acoustical work on the door or gloving the knuckles.”

When I worked in a bookstore in Phoenix, there was this judge who frequently came in, usually late at night to buy stacks of books. He was a voracious reader. He had been in the OSS in WW2 and was one of the officers involved in the arrest of Hermann Göring. As he said, “I actually laid hands on the man.” Needless to say, the judge was one of the smartest and most interesting guys I’ve ever met. One slow night, I hadn’t seen a customer in over an hour. I was lounging at the register, reading Saul Bellow, and the judge came in. He was so tickled I was reading Augie March, the best book he’d ever read about growing up in the depression. The Odyssey of the modern era. What baffled me the most was when this ultra successful guy says to me...I wish I’d had March’s life.

Success lays its own traps for us. We find ourselves frog marched along until the next thing we know the whole world would think we were insane to want to be anything other than what we have become.

I found the going tough in March, and even though this guy I admired so much had endorsed it so vigorously, at some point, I set the book aside, not to return to it for 33 years.

Judge, wherever you are now...I finished The Adventures of Augie March! The weight of this reading indiscretion has been lifted from my shoulders.

I don’t know that Bellow set out to write a masterpiece as he started stacking the pages of this novel. He might have just been having a lot of fun. The whacky, freewheeling style of the novel has me comparing certain aspects of it to Catch-22. The comedic elements, subtle but constant, keeps even the most tragic of circumstances that Augie finds himself ensnared from becoming too heavy.

Throughout the novel Augie is encouraged to go to University and does frequently consider it, usually when events have conspired against him. Going to school is frankly just too rigid a system for him. It is why he can’t hold down a regular job and why he is attracted to skilless jobs as long as he has more freedom of movement. He starts working for a man he would admire for the rest of his life, named Einhorn, while still in high school. ”’What would Caesar suffer in this case? What would Machiavelli advise or Ulysses do? What would Einhorn think? I’m not kidding when I enter Einhorn in this eminent list.” Einhorn is far from being on the up and up. He is a cripple who manages his affairs from a wheelchair but seems to be able to see the workings of the world very clearly, even if he isn’t able to see it for himself.

Another example of a nontraditional job that Augie holds for a while is stealing books. He is supposed to sell them on to the customers who requested them, but he refuses to give the books up until he has read them. He suffers from a spat of bibliophilia that is nearly impossible to shake off. His partner in crime even offers him his library card. He wants him to check the books out of the library instead. ”But somehow that wasn’t the same. As eating your own meal.” Ahh yes, there is a difference. There is, in my experience, always a stronger bond established between a reader and a book they own.

Augie falls in love/lust over and over again. His first big love/lust was Esther Fenchel. ”I say, without a push of love and worship in my bowels at the curve of her hips, and triumphant maiden shape behind, and soft, protected secret. Where, to be allowed with love, would be the endorsement of the world, that it was not the barren confusion distant dry fears hinted and whispered, but was necessary, justified, the justification proved by joy. That if she would have, approve, kiss, use her hands on me, allow me the clay dust of the court from her legs, the mild sweat, her intimate dirt and sweat, deliver me from suffering falsehood--show that there wasn’t anything false, injurious, or empty-hearted that couldn’t be corrected!”

Does anyone else have the urge to fix those sentences?

Of course, he is basing all this rather courtly devotion to her on her most shallow attributes. Her sister Thea circles around the love sick Augie unnoticed in the glow emanating from her sister. She realizes his desires for her sister are hopeless, and she feels she is the better match for Augie. In a book full of crazy decisions, probably one of the most insane that Augie gets himself involved in is a wild trip to Mexico, featuring Thea and Caligula the eagle. It is a cocked up mess from beginning to end.

“‘You’ve lost a tooth.’ I nodded. I knew where the gap was. But sooner or later you’re bound to lose some teeth.”

Augie has a chance to be rich more than once, but if there is one thing that he can be counted on to do….it is to make the wrong decision. A rich couple even offers to adopt him as their son. This would have made him a rich man for life. He refuses, unwilling to be a family pet, even if it does mean a lifetime of financial security. Honorable? Well yes, you could make that case, but given the staccato bizarreness of his life, it might have been a very prudent offer to accept.

During the war, the army doesn’t want him. He joins the Merchant Marine to do his bit. Of course, he doesn’t know that the Merchant Marine suffers the highest casualty rates of the war, and sure enough his ship is bombed by a torpedo. Augie finds himself in a raft with an insane genius who doesn��t want to be saved but only wants to find an island to continue his research. Only Augie, out of the hundreds of men on the ship, could end up in a boat with the most barmy of the lot.

The book ends with Augie living in France with Stella. She is trying to make a go of being an actress, and Augie is involved in some shady dealings. I can sense that Augie is looking towards the horizon, dreaming about the experiences and adventures that await him just over the curve of the earth.

Wikipedia has a great summary of this book. ”With an intricate plot and allusive style, Bellow explores contrasting themes of alienation and belonging, poverty and wealth, love and loss, with often comic undertones.” Because Augie is so free spirited, impossible to chain down in any profession or relationship, Bellow has an opportunity, through this character, to evaluate every nugget of human experience. Saul Bellow was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1976, and this book was mentioned as his greatest contribution to literature. Masterpiece? Of course, it is. The Judge couldn’t possibly be wrong.

”In yourself you labor, you wage and combat, settle scores, remember insults, fight, reply, deny, blab, denounce, triumph, outwit, overcome, vindicate, cry, persist, absolve, die and rise again. All by yourself! Where is everybody? Inside your breast and skin, the entire cast.”

If you wish to see more of my most recent book and movie reviews, visit http://www.jeffreykeeten.com
I also have a Facebook blogger page at:https://www.facebook.com/JeffreyKeeten
Profile Image for Ian "Marvin" Graye.
850 reviews2,087 followers
October 18, 2013
Original Review:

In Pursuit of Exuberance

I first read this in the mid-to-late 70's.

For a long time, I would have rated Bellow as one of my favourite three to five authors and Augie as one of my top three novels.

I haven't re-read it, but intend to. I am working from long distant memories now, but what I loved about it was the sense of exuberance and dynamism. At that time, it meant a lot to me to find evidence that intellect and vitality could be combined in one person.

It doesn't concern me so much now that I have found a level of comfort with my inner dork.

2013 Re-Read:

Busy Thinking Doing Being

This is a novel by and about a thinking man.

In saying this, I’m conscious of the inadequacy of the English language (or my command of it) to make my statement gender neutral.

I don’t want to say "thinking person" or "thinking human" or "thinking human being". These phrases are too ponderous and artificial.

I am willing, however, to call Augie March a "thinking being", because I want to go one step further and say he is a "thinking doing being".

And then to say, paraphrasing Bob Dylan, that he not busy thinking doing being is busy dying.

What I love about this novel is just how much Augie March gets up to during his [incomplete] life, how much thinking and learning, how much living and loving he does, while simultaneously defying his mortality and death.

For me, he is the epitome of a special brand of intellectual and personal dynamism. And this is one of my favourite novels.

A Quest with a Request

This review is an invitation to read a Great American Novel, but with a few caveats about length and style for some readers.

The novel is 536 pages long. It consists of 26 complete, well-defined chapters, but it doesn’t follow any preconceived linear plot. It contains a hero, in fact, many heroes, but it doesn’t consist of a traditional three act hero’s journey.

It’s not precisely crafted in the sense that what we read, the life experiences, have been heavily edited, abridged, distilled and selected, so that much life has been left out and what remains is the bare minimum the author could say.

Instead, much, much life has been left in, and what’s been said about that life is precisely crafted. It’s what Bellow needed and wanted to say about everything around him.

Bellow didn’t invite us into a cinema, sit us in a seat, turn out the lights and exclude the outside world, so that we could focus on his art.

Instead, he removed the ceiling, the walls and all of the obstacles that might block our sight, so that we could see and experience the real world, real people and real life. The book teems with reality, with realism, so much so that Bellow’s brother, Maurice, refused to speak to him for five years after its publication.

This novel, this filmic experience, this thought process might be longer than what is conventional. If that bothers you, this might not be the book for you. But if it doesn’t, then, like me, you might find it one of the most rewarding reading experiences of your life.

A Smorgasbord, Not for the Smorgasbored

“Augie March” is a smorgasbord, not a TV dinner. It’s not pre-packaged and pre-digested. It invites you to focus and observe and think and enjoy.

It’s expansive, sprawling, discursive, in the sense of "fluent and expansive rather than formulaic or abbreviated".

Sometimes, it seems to be a directionless wander, other times a wild ride. Augie is a wonder boy with a wanderlust. But at all times, Augie’s quest is singular, like Christopher Columbus, to discover America, the world, and through it, himself.

You might not enjoy this novel, unless you can relate to his quest, his adventures and his discoveries, unless you can imagine yourself on board the "Pinta", the "Nina" or the "Santa Maria", setting sail for some unknown, far horizon.

I urge you not to embark, if you are easily bored or fear you might want to jump ship mid-voyage or mid-adventure. The novel is ship-shape. It would take only you to torpedo it. It would break my heart to read yet another uncomprehending three star (or less) review of this brilliant and important novel. But if you’re not deterred, welcome aboard!

A Picaresque Without a Picaro

Now that it’s just you and me, let’s talk about Augie, baby, and his adventures.

Many critics describe "Augie March" as a picaresque novel.

The Spanish word "picaro" means a rogue or a rascal. The Wiki definition mentions that a picaresque narrative is usually a first person autobiographical account; the main character is often of low character or social class; and there is little if any character development in the main character, whose circumstances may change but rarely result in a change of heart.

The reference in the title to "adventures" hints at this narrative tradition, as does Augie’s lower class orphan social status.

However, Augie isn’t just content to let things happen to him. He’s not passive. He goes where his quest takes him. He is not there by accident or fate. What happens there might not have happened if he had remained at home. His experiences and adventures are a direct response to his quest.

Achievement Without Lineage

Just as there is little or no narrative linearity in the novel, Augie has no familial lineage of any grandeur.

Bellow strips him of his father. Augie is "the by-blow of a travelling man" (a child born out of wedlock). He has no recollection of his father.

Nevertheless, Augie’s mother is responsible for three boys and a dog, and family love is at the heart of the novel:

"Georgie Mahchy, Augie, Simey
Winnie Mahchy, evwy, evwy love Mama."

Mama is not a strong-willed, domineering matriarchal type in the Jewish tradition. The mantle of that role is assumed by Grandma Lausch, not a blood relative, but a Russian (Odessa) lodger, "boss-woman, governing hand, queen mother, empress" and major influence who wants what is best in life for Augie and his brothers. She sees potential for greatness in the boys and wants them to aspire and succeed to greatness.

To this extent, the novel is about the achievement of aspirations, both internal and external.

Augie’s quest is for material independence and love. If he achieves these two things, he will have learned the meaning of his life.

Having achieved himself, he will leave a heritage, a legacy for his own family. He will have commenced an empire, a lineage of his own.

Nobility Without Savagery

The single word that captures both of Augie’s aspirations is "nobility".

A key metaphor in the novel is the difference between nobility and savagery.

We are all part of the Animal Kingdom, but what separates humanity (human beings) from the other animals is the capacity for thought, the ability to be dignified, sophisticated, social, cultured, marvellous, refined, sublime and civilized, the tendency to explore, discover, invent, create, learn and teach.

This is our nobility, what separates us not just from animal savagery, but human savagery (such as was to be experienced in the Holocaust).

While I understand Augie’s name is pronounced "Or-gie", I can’t get out of the habit of pronouncing "Augie" as "Ow-gie" in the German fashion (like I suspect Grandma Lausch did).

Augie’s name is presumably short for August, which hints of the noble in its own right, for example, the name Augustus (Caesar), but more likely in the adjective "august" ("inspiring reverence or admiration; of supreme dignity or grandeur; majestic") and its Latin etymology (augustus: "venerable, majestic, magnificent, noble," probably originally "consecrated by the augurs, with favorable auguries").

With all of these personal aspirations and social expectations, it’s crucial that Augie succeed, that he triumph in life.

The outcome he fears most is failure. He can’t bear the thought of being a "flop".

In this way, his adventure with first real love, Thea, in Mexico with an eagle that hunts iguanas and snakes is symbolic of Augie’s own plight.

The eagle is called Caligula, after the Roman Emperor, but equally importantly, the Spanish word for eagle is "águila", which doesn’t take much contortion to become Augie.

This eagle should be the most noble and august of birds, yet it fails to achieve its purpose. In the eyes of the township, it becomes the flop that Augie feared.

A Man’s Character is His Fate

Augie’s great advantage is that he is a good listener, "clever junge", bright, intelligent, hopeful, optimistic, eager, [mostly] honest, "ehrlich", loyal, strong, tough, robust, sensual, handsome and grows to be 5' 11" (four inches taller than Bellow himself, thus achieving one of the author’s personal aspirations).

He also feels both obliged (or obligated) in the pursuit of his own self-improvement, and obliging in the support of others.

If anything, his greatest risk is that others can easily take advantage of him, his friendship and his generosity.

This is not to say he is an easy con. It is his nature, his character, and in the words of Heraclitus, "a man’s character is his fate."

A Woman’s Influence on a Man’s Fate

While Augie’s adventures are necessarily masculine, women play a vital role at every step as mother (Mama, Grandma Lausch, Mrs Renling), lover (Lucy, Sophie, Thea, Stella) and friend (Mimi).

Mrs Renling is almost as ambitious for Augie as Grandma Lausch:

"An educated man with a business is a lord."

Cousin Anna Coblin shares the view that Augie deserves to succeed:

"You should know only happiness, as you deserve."

Working Class Politics

One of Augie’s mentors, Mr Einhorn points out that he is a contrarian:

"This was the first time that anyone had told me anything like the truth about myself. I felt it powerfully. That, as he said, I did have opposition in me, and great desire to offer resistance and to say 'No!' which was as clear as could be, as definite a feeling as a pang of hunger."

Augie spends some of his apprenticeship in life as a union organiser. He is good at it and popular, except with rival unions.

Like Bellow himself, Augie reads up on Marx and becomes an anti-Stalinist Trotskyist for a while. He even sees Trotsky in Mexico from a distance, just days before his assassination. (Bellow himself missed meeting Trotsky by days.)

However, Augie’s heart is not behind the cause at this grass roots level, especially when he has unresolved issues with Thea to deal with.

The Universal Eligibility to Be Noble

I was always disappointed that, in his later novels, Bellow became less left-wing and more conservative and curmudgeonly.

To a certain extent, he moved with the times, in response to revelations about the reality of Soviet Communism and the invasions of Hungary and Czechoslovakia.

I don’t think he ever became a fully-fledged Neo-Conservative, more what we called an Anti-Anti-Communist, someone who was sympathetic to the Left, but was not a supporter of McCarthyite tactics.

He was a writer, not an activist. Like Augie, to quote James Atlas, he was more interested in experiencing "life’s intellectual, aesthetic and sensual pleasures".

However, more specifically, in terms of Augie’s worldview, what both author and character seemed to believe in was "the universal eligibility to be noble".

They were not so much concerned with the primacy of Equality, whether of outcome or income, but the equal opportunity to achieve Nobility in all the senses that make a human civilized and a civilization great.

"I am an American, Chicago Born"

This might all sound very obvious and trite to you, but I first read "Augie March", when I was defining my own political and cultural views, and Bellow’s and Augie’s example was absolutely vital to me, especially because, part of my own intellectual development occurred in an anti-intellectual context, where it was reassuring to know that intelligence and personal dynamism could be combined successfully in one person.

The other reason I am so protective and assertive of the merits of this novel is what it represented in the America of 1953.

Bellow was a Jew, a member of a race that had been denied entry into society, members clubs, golf clubs, academia and the cultural intelligentsia.

Bellow’s third, most ambitious novel burst onto the American literary scene with the following memorable words:

"I am an American, Chicago born…and go at things as I have taught myself, free-style, and will make the record in my own way: first to knock, first admitted."

Augie was asserting his own Americanness, opposed to any attempt to marginalize him because of his racial or religious background.

He was an American, first, a Jew, an American Jew. There was no inconsistency between the two qualities. He was proud to be both. He was proud to be the one.

When I recently read and reviewed "The Great Gatsby", I wrote about a Capitalist America, that survived and arguably thrived in some way by maintaining an exclusivity.

Perhaps, Gatsby’s only failure, the reason he could grasp the American Dream as a Holy Grail and find that it disintegrated in his hands, was that he didn’t realise that he wasn’t welcome by those who were already at the top.

In a way, Jay Gatsby handed the baton onto Augie March, who then insisted on making his way through those doors wedged closed, so that more people could follow him and have their contribution to America recognised and respected.

Whereas "The Great Gatsby" describes exclusion, "Augie March" conveys a message of inclusion, not necessarily assimilation, but co-existence in harmony of purpose and outcome.

So "Augie March" was a major assertion and achievement for an American Jew, an even greater achievement when the novel won the National Book Award for the most distinguished American novel of 1953.

I am still more sentimental about this book than "Herzog" or "Humboldt’s Gift", and therefore I am motivated to say that "Augie March" was a large part of the argument for Bellow’s entitlement to receive the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1976.

I am not an American, I am not Chicago born, I am not a Jew. However, the thing about "Augie March", this book written by a 38 year old American Jew, almost 20 years younger than I am now, is that it resounded with me all this way across the world, once upon a time 20 years after it was written, then again 60 years after it was written, and during every moment in between and for every moment during which my heart might beat and my mind might imagine afterwards.

Free-Style, In My Own Way

It wasn’t just the subject matter that appealed to me, though that would have been enough. It was the language.

Bellow’s first sentence announced his modus operandi: he wasn’t going to be constrained by convention, he was going to write free-style, in his own way, autodidactically, because he wanted to communicate what he had learned himself, rather than being taught.

As it turned out, he wrote like he spoke. It didn’t read like it was written, it sounded like it was said and we were listening to it. Augie could speak as if in the street, as if in a bar, as if in a club. It was entertaining, persuasive, informative, endearing, inspiring. Even when most intellectual, his words were still beautiful to listen to.

This was no smug Ivy League belletrist pronouncing from the comfort and security of his study. As Bellow has revealed, not a word of this novel was written in Chicago. This was a man jotting down the intricate workings of his mind while sailing across the Atlantic or sitting drinking coffee in a Parisian or Mediterranean cafe.

Like Joyce’s portrait of Dublin, this was Chicago and New York remembered from afar, painted from memory, complete with its own deli sights and smells and Yiddish rhythms and intonation.

Bellow never descended into purple prose. Everything seemed to be in exactly the right place, as required to communicate effectively. Yet frequently, I wondered at the beauty of his prose, speculating on whether anybody had ever used this combination of simple words in this precise way before.

I'll leave you with a random sampling of sentences that appealed:

"I have always tried to become what I am."

"I have a feeling with respect to the axial lines of life, with respect to which you must be straight or else your existence is merely clownery, hiding tragedy."

"Happy as a god."

"You are the author of your own death. What is the weapon? The nails and hammer of your character. What is the cross? Your own bones on which you gradually weaken."

"Mama was beginning to have the aging stiffness and was somewhat bowlegged; she enjoyed the cold air though, and still had her calm smooth color of health.”

”She could be singular too, when she’d swagger or boast or vie against other women; or fish compliments, or force me to admire her hair or skin, which I didn’t have to be forced to do."

"I felt her conduct like a kind of touching athletic prowess."

"There was the object of these wicked thoughts with a warm healthy face, looking innocent and happy to see me. What a beauty! My heart whanged without a pity for me. I already saw myself humbled in the dust of love, the god Eros holding me down with his foot and forcing all kinds of impossible stuff on me."

"We were risen up high with pleasure. We had all the luck in love we could ask, and it was maybe improved by the foreignness we found in each other."


Nobility Rewarded with a Nobel Prize

Here is an extract from Bellow's Nobel Prize Acceptance Speech.

It gives some insight into the Nobility of the thinking doing being and its origin in the quest to know ourselves and others, in other words, in Augie's quest:

"When complications increase, the desire for essentials increases too. The unending cycle of crises that began with the First World War has formed a kind of person, one who has lived through terrible, strange things, and in whom there is an observable shrinkage of prejudices, a casting off of disappointing ideologies, an ability to live with many kinds of madness, an immense desire for certain durable human goods - truth, for instance, or freedom, or wisdom.

"I don't think I am exaggerating; there is plenty of evidence for this. Disintegration? Well, yes. Much is disintegrating but we are experiencing also an odd kind of refining process. And this has been going on for a long time.

"Looking into Proust's Time Regained I find that he was clearly aware of it. His novel, describing French society during the Great War, tests the strength of his art. Without art, he insists, shirking no personal or collective horrors, we do not know ourselves or anyone else.

"Only art penetrates what pride, passion, intelligence and habit erect on all sides - the seeming realities of this world.

"There is another reality, the genuine one, which we lose sight of.

"This other reality is always sending us hints, which, without art, we can't receive.

"Proust calls these hints our ‘true impressions.’ The true impressions, our persistent intuitions, will, without art, be hidden from us and we will be left with nothing but a ‘terminology for practical ends which we falsely call life.’

"Tolstoy put the matter in much the same way. A book like his Ivan Ilyitch also describes these same ‘practical ends’ which conceal both life and death from us. In his final sufferings Ivan Ilyitch becomes an individual, a "character", by tearing down the concealments, by seeing through the ‘practical ends.’"

Profile Image for Michael.
1,094 reviews1,474 followers
February 1, 2020
Who am I to deny recognition of what others call “the Great American Novel”? Augie is launched on the world like a modern day Huckleberry Finn crossed with Tom Jones. But Augie’s arc does not quite have their level of comic edge, the moral quandaries of Huck or pursuit of women like Tom. Scrambling like a chameleon from one odd job or scheme to another he passes from one mentor to another, then breaks free but never quite grows up. He was a great inspiration for me, always aspiring to better himself and try something new and able to keep in flight without crashing after hard knocks.

He starts from humble beginnings of poverty in the depression-era Chicago melting pot, with an absent father and a neglectful mother he describes as “simple minded”. His guidance by a controlling Russian immigrant boarder, Anna Lausch, assumes the proportions of that of a typical mother and a label as “Grandma”. As we see in Wells’ “The Glass Castle”, the major life skill she imparts is the ability to manipulate others and, of equal importance, to see through the ploys of others. When he is nine, she engages him with a role in a caper to assure the optometrist will give his mother free glasses. He older brother Simon was not up to the lying required as he saw the world in the black and white of a Boy Scout. Augie is a natural at such dissembling:

I could be counted on to do the job, because I enjoyed it. I loved a piece of strategy. I had enthusiasms too; I had Simon’s …, and I had Grandma Lausch’s as well.

The “enthusiasms” referred to in Augie’s reflections (from late in life as our narrator) point the moral grounding he got from his brother’s noble aspirations. His love and empathy for his younger brother, Georgie, who is cognitively handicapped, contributes to another humanizing influence on Augie’s character. His ersatz grandmother is stunning in Bellow’s marvelous portrayal, the epitome of a larger-than-life character:

She was as wrinkled as an old paper bag, an autocrat, hard-shelled and Jesuitical, a punchy old hawk of a Bolshevik, her small ribboned gray feet immobile on the shoekit and stool Simon had made in the manual-training class, dingy old wool Winnie whose bad smell filled the flat on the cushion beside her. If wit and discontent don’t necessarily go together, it wasn’t from the old woman that I learned it. She was impossible to satisfy.

In retrospect Augie is able to see she was “one of those Machiavellis of small street and neighborhood that my young years were full of”, but at the time he took to heart many of her lessons, including a solid work ethic and a wariness over pursuit of love:

”You don’t know what’s coming if you think you can get by with laughing and eating peach pie.”

“Nobody asks you to love the whole world, only to be honest, ehrlich. Don’t have a loud mouth. The more you love people the more they’ll mix you up. A child loves, a person respects. Respect is better than love.

By age 14 the critical lesson he is learning has to do with shaping one’s fate through applying oneself in work. Here he bounces back after being squelched in exploring music:

And when Anna snatched Howard’s saxophone, my thought was, “Go on. Take it. What do I want it for! I’ll do better than that. “ My mind was already dwelling on a good enough fate.
While the old lady, following her own idea of what that fate would be, continued to find various jobs for me.
Saying “various jobs,” I gave out the Rosetta stone, so to speak, to my entire life.

From menial jobs like busboy or bellhop or dog training, Augie moves on to dabbling with robbery and graduates to an assistant and virtual son to a wealthy and powerful businessmen and later to an aristocrat with a love of expensive horses. This subsuming himself to others gets him in trouble, and he learns to invest himself in his own initiatives. But it takes him longer to get his balance when it comes to success over subjugations of love. At one extreme, he finds himself helping his strange girlfriend using an eagle to hunt iguanas in a Mexican desert. And in helping another woman escape an abusive relationship he jeopardizes his tenuous standing with the one he aspires to.

I love how even though Augie dropped out of school, he is always reading and is always trying to forge lessons out of life. I find him to have the same kind of warm-hearted, questing outlook as Richard Ford’s Frank Bascom.

As long as I could keep improving my mind, I figured, I was doing okay.
Augie embodies the American dream of the potential to grab opportunities and become a self-made man. Though he never achieves a stable success or even clear goals for himself, his ability to keep morphing in the face of changing circumstances makes him a new kind of American hero. He has a lot of chutzpah blended with an admirable humility:

Everyone tries to create a world he can live in, and what he can't use he often can't see. But the real world is already created, and if your fabrication doesn't correspond, then even if you feel noble and insist on there being something better than what people call reality, that better something needn't try to exceed what, in its actuality, since we know it so little, may be very surprising. If a happy state of things, surprising; if miserable or tragic, no worse than what we invent.

The literary experts pin Augie’s adventures down as “picaresque”, which Wiki charts from a Spanish tradition (think Cervantes) as tales of a “roguish hero of low social class who lives by his wits in a corrupt society.” There is some element of truth to the generalization on the form:

There is little if any character development in the main character. Once a picaro, always a picaro. His or her circumstances may change but they rarely result in a change of heart.

But I believe Augie’s character gained in wisdom and independence over time. And I don’t see the satire or the comic, delusional hopelessness in his arc as we see with “Don Quixote”. He is closer to Jim Harrison’s “Brown Dog”, a rascal with heart, more a giver than a taker. I like to think that Augie learned to play like Brown Dog, found true love, and came to savor the rewards of “laughing and eating peach pie.”
Profile Image for Jimmy.
150 reviews182 followers
October 12, 2012
Saul Bellow's the Adventures of Augie March is one of three things; it's either Saul Bellow's most verbose novel, a piece of fiction that almost stands as an historical document of Chicago during the Great Depression, or one of the best contemporary examples of the picaresque novel. Either way it's good and bad, and lovely and sprawling, and a testament to Bellow's fascination with the life that emanated from Chicago in the fifties.

Augie, the protagonist of the story, is a tramp to say the least; the archetypal schlemil, drifting his way through life, partially making an attempt to please his family, yet at the same time basically trying to enjoy himself. Bellow's portrayal of this character is at times painful to read, and at the same time ridiculously sympathetic. There should be an emphasis on the term "character" here because Augie exemplifies what seems lost and maybe completely absent from the sort of post-war fiction that would follow novels such as Augie March, as well as that transitional novel of timeless greatness that is the Recognitions. He's a man who (tactfully juxtaposed by Bellow with his seemingly more level-headed brother Simon) can't seem to succeed, or rather simply doesn't want to. It's not that Augie is necessarily precocious or so determinately street clever, but it's because Augie's concept of the American dream is so freewheeling, and such an experimental riff on what it supposedly should be, that he can't seem to commit himself to one thing.

Throughout the story we follow Augie as he at first earnestly, and eventually in a listless manner, pursues a series of jobs that never seem to offer enough of a sense of fulfillment. He's often shamed by his grandmother, clearly usurping the role of his feeble mother, to the point where his connection with his family eventually becomes a restraint; one that holds him back from doing whatever it is that he seems to want to do in life. This existential paradox, contained within the historical context of depression-era Chicago, is what essentially breathes life into this picaresque tale of self-discovery and struggle. However, the reader has to eventually wonder where these questions are to take them in understanding Bellow's commentary on the aimless nature of Augie's time and place.

Augie March is undoubtedly Bellow's longest and most stylistically liberal piece of fiction. A superficial page count alone, outweighs the rest of his novels. And its style is more beat-language oriented than anything else that he's ever written. One can't help but be struck by the excessive lengthiness of his prose here, not to mention the clearly subjective tone and ostensibly autobiographical essence of the story. It hurts this wonderful book in a serious way. Finding Augie endearing is almost inescapable or obvious, but finding the narrative that Bellow feels the need to draw out to an almost irrelevant degree is much less appealing. This is because, in so many ways, Bellow ends up sounding redundant in narrating examples in which Augie fails and succeeds. For a novel so full of adventurous vignettes, some of them seem less important than others. And toward the end, the reader can't help but clearly ascertain the heavy-handed emphasis of Augie's inability to adapt to the real world; most certainly a Quixotic type character, and it's unlikely that Bellow, writing what can only be construed as a novel in the picaresque fashion, had Cervantes in mind when molding Augie March. But length has never proved to be a detriment to an intentional narrative. Bellow's intentions are successful, and are conveyed in the most beautiful ways at times, but overall the story is basically indulgent, taking its time with passages of storytelling that basically overstay their welcome.

And yet, and yet, this is still someone who we appreciate because he is destined to fail. And failure is possibly even an inappropriate assessment of Augie. Maybe it's the sort of blind romanticism than was unavoidable for a character of Augie's individuality and charisma to have, more importantly, maybe it's just his nature to choose a path that, while exhilarating and just so full of life, inevitably leads him down roads that simply do no promise much of a future that looks ahead further than tomorrow or the next day. Whatever it is about this man, and even if Bellow goes to painful lengths to explain who Augie is, there's something about him that is such an exemplary version of the American spirit, to our shared concept of individual freedom, that we'd all be sore losers to say that it's unfeasible for any of us to see some static expression of hope and possibility in Augie March that we don't see in ourselves.
Profile Image for Michael Finocchiaro.
Author 3 books5,416 followers
June 10, 2018
This book seems to be an underrated classic. From its opening lines, it takes along the heady projectory of Augie March in Chicago and elsewhere - not quite a Horatio Alger but perhaps a less burlesque Ignatius J Reilly whose author must have had Bellow's book in mind when he wrote a Confederacy of Dunces. Augie is a fantastic Everyman who draws us in to his attempts at finding himself. I found particularly that the first climax in Mexico was very moving. The voice that Bellow found here is rich in both Chicago street vernacular but with erudite references that reveal a more philosophical, deeper voyage despite the hijinks and hilarious adventures of the protagonist. I really loved this book perhaps even more than Seize the Day or Herzog. It certainly makes be blush with pride at my American literary heritage.
Seriously, this is an excellent book!
Profile Image for Tony.
885 reviews1,466 followers
December 12, 2016
I am an American, Altoona born--not Chicago, but just as somber. At an impressionable age I waited until class was over, then walked up, Bellow's Seize the Day in hand, and asked Professor Mitchell for a moment of his time; Mr. Mitchell, with his wispy hair and pale skin, always the same blue suit, a librarian of a man, conceived before acid-free paper. I said, "The names, the names in this novel; every one is the name of a theorist in psychology. Surely that means something!" And Mr. Mitchell paused, so slightly, and then he made his lips purse--he MonaLisaed me, the bastard--and he said, "No. No-(almost a giggle)-No, I don't think so." And then he said, "Have you read Augie March?" "No, not yet." "You should really read Augie March!" And he actually looked happy, not triumphant, but like someone recalling a first, passionate love.

And so, I did what any certifiable American would do: I refused to read The Adventures of Augie March for 44 years. I'd show him! But this year, in the land of discord, I figured Mr. Mitchell has suffered enough.

Mitchell was not alone in his look of post-coital pleasure in thinking on Augie. Christopher Hitchens enthused in the Introduction to the edition I read. And--my copy was purchased "used"--a former owner was kind enough to have left the pages of Martin Amis' famous essay inside, the essay in which Amis, a Brit, awards this book by Bellow, a Canadian, as "The Great American Novel."

I don't know.

There were gorgeous sentences. Like:

I had a glimpse of things from her standpoint, of how it was one thing to have a young man for your happy friend in the rosy days of love, and quite different the faulty creature to face in practical weather.


If wit and discontent don't necessarily go together, it wasn't from the old woman that I learned it.

And because Augie narrates his story in a self-reflective voice, the reader--well, this reader--can't help searching whether there is something of Augie in himself. I thought this was like me and my life--I could not find myself in love without it should have some peculiarity.

Oh, it's smart, even profound. Maybe if I had read it when meekly challenged by Mr. Mitchell I would have loved it more. But that was then and this is now. I've had many other Adventures (and Misadventures) since.

The world turns. It won't happen--these things don't happen to me--but I can imagine someone cradling this book and asking me, "The bald eagle? So greatly admired and, yet, when the lizard bit back, he proved a coward. It's . . . I mean . . . is it us?"

I thought so once. But that's too easy, isn't it? Have you read about my friend, the Gaviero?

Profile Image for Matt.
1,010 reviews644 followers
December 4, 2013

Martin Amis, one of Bellow's acolytes, who doesn't suffer fools gladly, said simply this. After you finish Bellow at his best- and this is without question one of his absolute best- you don't even think you can write a novel...ever.

That's how good this is. I was ecstatic when I finished it.

Streamlined, wonderfully paced, exuberantly told.

Augie is one of the best characters you could ever hope to come across. Full of life, totally unpretentious, endlessly inventive adventerous, curious and human.

This is very much what it means to be alive.

It's all in here. Enjoy immediately!
Profile Image for Aubrey.
1,271 reviews697 followers
September 17, 2014
In the end you can't save your soul and life by thought. But if you think, the least of the consolation prizes is the world.
I may be American, but I am not Chicago born. Nor am I male, or of the generation that grew up in the roar of the twenties and came into adulthood soon after the crash. My life, and more importantly my perspective on said life, would be much different creatures than the ones I currently clamber around on. I think, though, they would've been much like Augie's, on an axis to the unknown that is neither guaranteed to exist nor enviable in its existence.

For what I value above all else is a sense of justified living, some measure of verifiable existence that is not constrained any more than what the soul can bear. By soul I suppose I mean mind, but in this age that word is as vague and unreliable as its theological precursor, albeit with less inherent worth in its connotations. Also, the soul is more easily imagined as something that can be acted upon, strung along wires and ripped clean out of the body on more than one occasion recounted in ancient texts and popular fiction. You can lose your mind, as the saying goes, but not everyone can step back and observe the chattering box of their ego, superego, and id. They think they can, but it's one thing to observe the effects of ideologies on others, and a much more convoluted and unpleasant process to disconnect the self and measure the personality. For where are the boundaries, the limits, the safety nets and sign posts? So I will stick with the word soul, and make use of its improved flexibility.

Augie can see these effects, whether by the immense amount of life experience or by the scraps of formal education that he's managed to gather. He doesn't have any words for what he's seeing, the driving force of civilization on the individual, the socioeconomic machine grinding the niches and slotting the personas, piece by piece, human being by human being. But he can sense them. It is true that he is highly suspect to being carried away by forces of personality, ones who have wound themselves so tightly into their respective places that they corkscrew all of the littler beings around them into a tight cyclone of centralized activity. The difference with Augie is that when he nears the center, he does not get stuck in the cogs and crannies. Instead, he lets loose, and the centripetal acceleration carries him far, far away, until he is caught up by yet another great typhoon and loses himself in the whirling midst.

Is that considered failure? To see what happens to those who 'specialize' in the grand scheme of things, and be frightened by it? To experience the failure of something that was of the utmost certainty, and forever more shy away from the best laid plans of mice and men? To live, to learn, to love, and have each and every path point towards a nonexistent final solution, falsely promise a conclusive fate?

The world is not ready for the Augies. The world is not ready for a rambling persona with little sophistication and great empathetic intelligence, someone sensitive to the delicate meters of the psyche and obstinate in the defense of their soul. Someone who cannot put into words the ever shifting balance of relief and discontent with their existence, seemingly carried on the backs of others while in truth pulling against an ever strengthening tide. Someone who rides the rails into a jail cell, names an eagle Caligula, forsakes the steady career at all turns and quotes Plato during their mental crises. A never-do-well and good-hearted philosopher, welcomed into homes while on the constant search for their own, who cannot describe their desire to others in a society-sanctioned manner but feels the constant pull of it on their soul.
I headed downtown right away. It was still early in the evening, glittering with electric, with ice; and trembling in the factories, those nearly all windows, over the prairies that had returned over demolitions with winter grass pricking the snow and thrashed and frozen together into beards by the wind. The cold simmer of the lake also, blue; the steady skating of rails too, down to the dark.
Down into the dark, down into the laden senses, conveyed in a romantic style among the concrete jungle, a precious mental note of beauty amongst the tough old exteriors of cold and grit. There's no saving here. There's the thought. And, therein, lies the world.
Profile Image for Paul Bryant.
2,162 reviews9,031 followers
July 20, 2015
I went to Italy once. Siena. The cathedral. Huh. 14th century popes with a licorish allsort fetish and way too much money. Okay, it was, you know, impressive. You could tell those popes wanted to be Alexander McQueen and they were all 6 centuries too early.

What, I hear you cry, does this have to do with Augie March, the mid 20th century Chicago likely lad? Only that I tiptoed out of the book and the cathedral with the same sour feeling. Sour and sore. I was beat. It was all too much. It was overpowering. I was done in, ears ringing. There was no volume control on either. They both need to be diluted. Well, for my weak taste, anyhow. All a bit much. Shouty. In your face. Neither were ever introduced to the idea of subtlety. Here’s a thing. I found an ebook of Augie March on youtube. They do that. I’da thought they’da got sued but no. I gave it a whirl then I gave it up. But at least I knew what the problem was.

Augie March is of course quite brilliant, but it was a kind of brilliance which felt like force-feeding the pore old reader. Bellow eyes up his readers like French farmers eye up the geese they’re going to get the foix gras out of. Okay, here we go, cram cram cram. The vocabulary is up in the higher nineties. Every last possible detail about everything in Augie’s life goes right down there on the page. It was like being trapped on an endless train journey with a classic bore who doesn’t know what details to leave out of a story and also doesn’t know what the point of his story is. But the bore is clearly some kind of borderline genius. On and on. And of course he assumes that everything about his life is interesting to everyone. Your classic bore behaviour. And it’s delivered in this first person monotone, the register never changes. Then this, then that. What was in the underwear drawer. What was on the toast.

Now, we have had these infinite-detail impressive big novels-of-life-itself before. From my swag bag of novels I would pull out Main Street by Sinclair Lewis and What I Lived For by Joyce Carol Oates and A House for Mr Biswas by VS Naipaul, not to mention Richard Price’s gargantuan inch-by-inch explorations of a handful of urban days and nights in his three huge police procedurals – I mean, Ulysses itself is one of these every-tiny-thing is-going-in masterblasters. I mention ones that I love. So you see I was very disappointed to find that although it’s quite clear this book is a masterpiece it just wasn’t …

for instance, young Augie goes to work as a general dogsbody for a disabled geezer called Einhorn, who is yeah a curious enough character & he & his dubious family take over Augie’s waking hours so the whole book then becomes about them and it just gets real dull real quick and stays dull too. This Einhorn is kind of interesting but not so we want to know the arse-end of every aspect of the five universes of Einhornity, which is what we get.

And yet – there are unspeakably great paragraphs here and there. Great great sentences that belong up on some wall.

But I’m making a mental note to try this one again in my next life.

Five star book, one star reader, therefore no rating
Profile Image for Edward.
414 reviews389 followers
April 10, 2017
I am an American, Chicago born - Chicago, that somber city - and go at things as I have taught myself, free-style, and will make the record in my own way: first to knock, first admitted; sometimes an innocent knock, sometimes a not so innocent.

What an opening sentence, which manages to prefigure the entire novel - the frenetic energy of it, diverting this way and that, moving enigmatically from one idea to the next by an inscrutable trajectory. It is clear that Augie will make the record in his own way, and from the moment of introduction he proceeds to submerge the unprepared reader in a deluge of detail, a life story related as a life is lived: one event following the one before, this one followed then by another, then the next, relentlessly and with unceasing energy, the often banal minutiae of accumulated friends, lovers, enemies, successes, failures, hopes and anguishes - some are pivotal in Augie's life, but many simply pass through, never to be seen again, leaving barely a trace. The process is haphazard and tedious, relying solely on yet driven inexorably by the exuberance (an adjective overused in describing this book, but one that is nonetheless apt) and brilliance of the writing.

This is the impression formed within the first one hundred pages, and yet the novel persists exactly in this vein for a further four hundred or more. However at some point what has felt like a barrage begins to pass through you in the same way that life passes through you, simply as a series of occurrences, experienced in succession, with one standing at the focus trying to make sense of it all. A life has no narrative arc; no clear culmination: when a story ends, life goes on and perhaps another story will begin.

The Adventures of Augie March is grounded in a specific time and place that has been lost to history, and so much of the immediacy and currency of this novel has been correspondingly diminished. And yet the experience of Augie March somehow manages to transcend the somber Chicago of the depression and stand for something universal - it is the story of finding oneself, of trying to become, and of never really knowing if you got there, or if you ever will.
Profile Image for Steven Godin.
2,282 reviews2,152 followers
May 22, 2016
An adventurous all-american masterpiece of epic proportions?...well at least that's what I had hoped for with five stars flashing before my eyes before even reading the first page!, so where did it all go wrong?, predominantly because it tries to hard to be many different things at once with even the smallest interactions between characters broken up or halted to reflect on the human predicament, relationships or moments from the past, which on the whole I don't have a problem with from time to time but at over five hundred pages this would continue throughout and become tedious leaving it about 100 pages too long, affecting any story development leading to an overall frustrating novel that did not flow and was hard work to complete. Of course there is a flip side to this as the level of ambition, depth and quality of writing has to be admired, and it was, with the historical aspect of the depression in a major city being heartfelt and believable during the early stages, this I think was Bellow's great skill in setting the scene for what was to follow.

So then Augie March a rather unfortunate young fellow growing up in Chicago during the great depression who like many other people at this time struggled and this results in him having to borrow, steal, cheat, and charm his way in life while still in education, taking on a number of rather obscure and lousy jobs to support his poor family who some are of ill health including his simple brother George and Grandma, he would get to met a vast number of characters from all different backgrounds and many become fond of him. But this kid has a determination and resilience that slowly starts to show as his reputation grows the occupations improve and along with his other brother Simon the money flows more frequently. Then the attraction to the opposite sex starts to takes hold with the odd fling here and there, but it's when spending time away with an employer that he truly falls in love with one of two sisters, the problem being it's the other sister Thea who falls for Augie and they would some time later met up and become a couple. Then a trip to Mexico to hunt lizard with a trained Eagle called Caligula would slowly signal the end end of another chapter in his life and move on to pastures new in this grand odyssey of a soul searching to find his place in the world.

In terms of scope it's huge and like I said this is both good and troublesome with a great outline for a story but executed in the wrong way, this could have been up there with the likes of 'Lonesome dove' or 'East of Eden' but just doesn't have the lasting power to keep you interested and a book of this scale simply needs that. Although it had some great moments and was very well written my disappointment is difficult to hide. Still I am glad to have got through it and may have appreciated this more if read later in life.
Profile Image for Nikos Tsentemeidis.
400 reviews199 followers
January 2, 2017
Είχα μεγάλες προσδοκίες για το πολυδιαφημισμένο "μεγάλο αμερικανικό μυθιστόρημα". Όντως μεγάλο. 860 σελίδες. Αν και ο Pynchon, σίγουρα και κάποιοι συμπατριώτες του έχουν γράψει μεγαλύτερα. Αυτά για το μέγεθος.

Όσο για το περιεχόμενο, έφτασα με το ζόρι στις 200 σελίδες, είδα ότι δεν άλλαξε μοτίβο καθόλου, οπότε αποφάσισα να εγκαταλείψω το μεγάλο αυτό αμερικάνικο μυθιστόρημα.

Από περιέργεια ανέτρεξα στις 100 πρώτες σελίδες και καταμέτρησα 60 πρόσωπα, 60 χαρακτήρες τους οποίους περιγράφει με αρκετά λόγια ο συγγραφέας. Στις 800 σελίδες δεν μπορώ να φανταστώ πόσα ακόμα θα μπορούσε να έχει.

Profile Image for Jim.
361 reviews90 followers
September 9, 2019
Well, this set my reading back a couple of months. Every once in a while I have to tackle something like this to remind myself why I like to stick to non-fiction just as much as possible. But this one was on the prestigious list of the 1001 books you must read before you d-i-e, so I thought I would tackle it.

I hated it. I feel guilty saying that, and maybe a little bit stupid since so many have rated it so highly. Bellow is a good writer when he's not baffling you with some clumsy sentence structure. My issue is that Augie March is probably the most prosaic protagonist ever to grace the pages of a novel. He never does anything on his own initiative, always at someone else's invite and on someone else's dollar.

So why four stars for a book I didn't care for? Aside from some character development and baffling sentence structure, Bellow writes a good book.
Profile Image for julieta.
1,099 reviews17.1k followers
February 11, 2008
The true adventure story is one that not only takes you through a man's life and everything that happens to him, but of his own discovery of who he is and what he wants to be in the world. This book by Bellow is just that. I had only read herzog by him, a very long time ago, but did not get it at all..maybe the time was not right because with the adventures of augie march my experience was completely different, I connected from the first moment, and loved every minute of it. Augie insists on not leading what he calls a "disappointed life" and with that thought his life becomes a true adventure in search of who he really wants to be. And we see every character that crosses his path give cause for reflection on relationships, friendships, family, and everything that can happen when another person affects your life. I loved it. And I can't not mention that the fact that mexico has a presence was also a plus, and the constant presence of many strong, beautiful, eccentric, sometimes annoying, and sometimes great, women and men. Totally recommended!
Profile Image for مروان البلوشي.
295 reviews584 followers
October 3, 2016
لم تخيب هذه الرواية ظني، وهي التي ساهمت بفوز كاتبها "سول بيلو" بجائزة نوبل عام 1976.

حقا عظيمة بموضوعها وهمها الأساسي، وغنية ومليئة بألوان الحياة، وهي أيضا ورغم انطلاقها من واقع أمريكي تقليدي جدا، إلا أنها تخاطبنا جميعا كبشر، نسعى في هذه الحياة للبحث عن أنفسنا.
هذا لا يعني أن الرواية تقليدية فنيا، بل هي نقطة تنصهر فيها أساليب متعددة من أجناس أدبية مختلفة لم أعرف أن قد تتلاقى بهذا الجمال.

بطل الرواية وهو "أوغي"، يحاول الهرب من هاوية الكساد العظيم الذي ضرب الاقتصاد الأمريكي والعالمي في الثلاثينات من القرن الماضي، ليبدأ رحلة جغرافية شاملة داخل أمريكا، بحثا ليس فقط عن الرزق، بل أيضا عن معنى الحلم الأمريكي وعن هويته كشاب يعيش بين حدود ثقافات وعقليات متناقضة وأساليب حياة مختلفة.
Profile Image for Teresa.
1,492 reviews
August 21, 2017
Arrastei-me, penosamente, pelas primeiras quatrocentas páginas e as últimas trezentas folheei vertiginosamente.

Mas o livro é bom.
O Martin Amis diz que é o grande romance da literatura americana.
Até faz parte de algumas listas de leitura obrigatória e tudo.
O problema é mesmo meu que não atino com Saul Bellow.
Profile Image for Mateo.
110 reviews19 followers
April 5, 2015
Looking for the Great American Novel? According to the likes of Martin Amis, Salman Rushdie, and Christopher Hitchens, look no further than this book. (Why the book jacket would quote three Englishmen about the Great American Novel is a mystery not explained by the editors at Penguin Classics.) James Wood, in his almost ecstatic essay "Saul Bellow's Comic Style," called Bellow "probably the greatest writer of American prose of the 20th century--where greatest means most abundant, various, precise, rich, lyrical," and goes on to give numerous examples of that remarkable prose, many from Augie March.

I can understand why Woods et al. would say these things. For example, Augie's description of a woman as "a great work of ripple-assed luxury, with an immense mozzarella bust" is a line any author would kill for.

And yet.

For all its brilliance--or, perhaps, because of all that brilliance--I found this book wearying. Halfway through its 600 pages I found myself skimming paragraphs and checking ahead to see when chapters would end. Three-fourths of the way through and I was picking up old New Yorker magazines rather than Augie March, and the last 100 pages, every bit as brilliant as the first 100, were kind of a trudging slog through to an ending I didn't really care about. This is a big, gassy windbag of a novel, whose protagonist is a big, windy gasbag of a narrator, and eventually I began to long for narrative event unencumbered by sterling glossolalia and big-ticket allusions. (It would have helped if there were characters who were affecting rather than simply memorable; as with many fireworks novels, the main character is the author.) Yes, the writing is brilliant and extraordinary and often funny, but, to quote a one-sentence review by Ambrose Bierce of another novel: "The covers of this book are too far apart."

It's like Whitman. Now, I love Whitman, you love Whitman, we all admire his original and uniquely American voice, but if you're honest with yourself you'll admit that a half-page of Whitman is a sublime and revelatory experience, a page is an éclair of vernacular lyricism, two pages is like a too-large serving of an extra-rich cake, and five pages leaves you wondering if the lists will ever stop. Whitman, of course, is perhaps the most quintessentially American writer there is, so perhaps its those Whitmanesque qualities that makes Augie March such a good candidate for Great American Novel. If this really is the Great American Novel, though, it's too bad that the Great American Novel takes so long to finish.
Profile Image for Drew.
238 reviews121 followers
September 28, 2011
Looks like I'll have to change my final opinion of Saul Bellow, the same way I did with Cormac McCarthy. I read Henderson the Rain King and Dangling Man last year, and couldn't stand either of them. They were both a chore, even though Dangling Man was only 150 or so pages. Then I read Ravelstein, and although it was more enjoyable, it didn't seem likely to stick with me. I knew I had to give him one more shot at least, since everyone seems to like him so much, and The Adventures of Augie March seemed to be the sort of book I'd like: long, picaresque, and ambitious.

And it is all of those. Augie starts the story as a poor kid in Chicago, practically an orphan since his dad is absent and his mom is a quiet, unobtrusive near-invalid. He has a charismatic grandmother, Grandma Lausch, who has great expectations for Augie and his brother Simon. And the whole thing is very Great Expectations, actually. Very 'please-sir-may-i-have-some-more'. And the tone of it is fairly bland and Dickensian and let-me-tell-you-how-this-all-came-to-be. Not very promising. Augie gets taken under the wing of Einhorn, a businessman (of sorts) of uncertain success. He's naturally very enamored of the guy at this point -- "William Einhorn was the first superior man I knew." Superior to whom, though? At any rate, the first 150 pages or so are not that promising.

But then Bellow goes crazy. The style changes from decidedly 19th-century to definitively mid-20th. Absurd characters drift in and out of the narrative. Augie travels outside Chicago to various places on various errands, none of which I'll spoil here. A bald eagle named Caligula becomes a prominent character. The writing varies from clear and precise to lofty and/or hallucinogenic. There's this Bellow quote rattling around in my head, something about how only 20,000 people in the world could fully understand his work. I thought that would make sense for Joyce or Faulkner, but Bellow's work always seemed totally straightforward, with no surprises. And I still think that's true of his ideas. It's less true of his syntax and vocabulary, though. He just has a way of expressing images that's totally unique. And at times incomprehensible. But even that's in a good way. Here's Augie on driving fast:

"...Until you noticed how a mile of trees cracked open like a shadow inch of tape, that the birds resembled flies and the sheep birds, and how swift the blue, yellow, and red little bloods of bugs spattered on the glass."

What the hell is a shadow inch of tape? I don't know, but I get his whole description. And who would ever say it like that?

And here's one of his character descriptions, which I find inimitable, even in the works of his that I liked less:

"Beside his mouth were deep folds and inside them grew little shining bristles, as the geode or marvel of the rock world is full of tiny crystals...His head was onion-shaped and clipped close. In the garden where he was when we met the heat was trembling off the top of his dome"

Why gloss the geode as "marvel of the rock world"? Anybody who knows what one is doesn't need the gloss, and anybody who doesn't still won't be able to visualize it. I have no idea, but I still think it's a great paragraph.

Here's a description of Chicago:

"...the gray snarled city with the hard black straps of rails, enormous industry cooking and its vapor shuddering to the air, the climb and fall of its stages in construction or demolition like mesas, and on these the different powers and subpowers crouched and watched like sphinxes. Terrible dumbness covered it, like a judgment that would never find its word."

Is that like anything else you've ever read? He just manhandles the English language. Twists and tortures it just like Norman Podhoretz said, but in a good way. Tempers it in his crazy head like molten metal in a crucible.

One more example, this one a little lower in brow-level: "There's something about those business envelopes with the transparent oblong address part that my soul runs away from." True of everyone, I'd think, except who has ever said it like that?

But it's not just the style that makes this book great. It's the best example I've seen of a story about a kid who can't, or won't, become an adult. Let's say that the main criterion for becoming an adult is not a certain age (because what age would that be?); let's say it's not having kids (because we know kids can have kids); let's say it's not getting married (because the age of consent in other countries can of course be very low). Let's say instead that you become an adult the moment the rest of your life is, or seems to be, set in stone. Marriage or kids or a career can certainly do this, of course, or contribute. But they don't have to. I'd argue that being an adult takes a certain sense of resignation, as opposed to the pervasive sense of infinite possibility characteristic of kids. But it sounds more bleak than it is: there is stability in resignation. There is comfort. And there's a hell of a lot of dignity.

Augie has many chances for this. Early in the novel he passes up a chance to be adopted by an aristocratic family, and thus a chance to live in the lap of luxury for the rest of his life. He doesn't do this, simply because it would close so many doors to him, or so he thinks. He values freedom more than security or wealth. Then he willingly messes up a chance to attach himself to his brother Simon, whose star is rising, and who remains rich ostensibly past the end of the novel, though not necessarily happy. Augie can't cope with the fact that someday he'll have to let his options for life narrow down to one. And at the end of the book, he's still drifting. He's changed, sure, but not fundamentally. In truth he seems on the fence: he's married but not in such a way that inspires confidence that he'll stay that way. And his job takes him all over, but is a little more stable than what he had through most of the book. So he may be on his way, finally, to adulthood. But there is that uncertainty.

And this ends up being more pertinent than Bellow may have suspected. Kids are staying kids longer now, or so they say. They marry later, divorce earlier, live at home, change careers, tarry in school. All this as resistance to the idea that they may have to resign themselves to one path at some point. They don't want to be stuck. And this is because (and I hate to make this generalization but I do believe it's true) our generation -- my generation -- has been brought up, like Augie March, to believe that we are special. That we are destined for greatness. That we can have anything we want. That we can be anything we want. And that we don't have to settle for anything less than perfect.

But we do have to settle for less than perfect. That's what being an adult means. And Augie March can help us understand that.
Profile Image for Darwin8u.
1,559 reviews8,648 followers
November 3, 2011
I knew from the first couple paragraphs of this novel that it was fantastic, amazing, like a well-built Italian or German sports car. However, once Bellow jumps into Augie's flight to Mexico with Thea (where they try to to catch Mexican lizards with an wussy eagle) it was equivalent to discovering that the sports car you are driving actually has 6 gears. Anyway, this is one of those books where sentences seem likely to escape the gravity of English, the characters are as big as planets, and the plot is as big as Eternity or at least the Universe or at least that part of the Universe that is visible from Chicago.
Profile Image for Jason Pettus.
Author 12 books1,262 followers
December 31, 2015
(Reprinted from the Chicago Center for Literature and Photography [cclapcenter.com]. I am the original author of this essay, as well as the owner of CCLaP; it is not being reprinted illegally.)

It's said by some that Chicago might have the most vibrant literary community in the entire United States right now; and if that's indeed true, it'd be due in part to the remarkably popular "One Book One Chicago" (OBOC) program run by the Chicago Public Library (CPL), one of the many things that makes it such a treat to be a book lover in this city. Inspired by similar experiments in smaller towns, the CPL essentially twice a year picks an interesting book, stocks up on a thousand percent more copies than usual (done many times via a promotional tie-in with a particular publisher), then tries to convince as many people in the city as possible to all read the book in the same thirty-day period, through things like an informative study guide, a series of events around the city, discussion groups in every single of the 150 branches of the CPL system, encouraging local bookstores to put the book on sale and do their own front-room displays, and many times even getting the author to actually come to the city and appear in a number of events as well, if they're still alive. And I have to say, there's something almost unbelievable and magical about stepping onto a random el one day with one of these OBOC books, and to spy ten or fifteen other strangers just on that car alone who are all reading it too, which is one of the things that the various artistic government agencies here are so good at, adding a little magic to everyone's lives.

This fall's pick is Saul Bellow's 1953 rough-and-tumble masterpiece The Adventures of Augie March, one of the first great novels about Chicago ever written; and that's especially appropriate here, in that this fall just happens to be the tenth anniversary of the OBOC program as well, and the CPL is putting a kind of energy into this particular cycle that they often don't with others. And in fact, this pick is a great example of another big benefit that comes from the OBOC program, which is simply learning more about books that were once important but have started becoming obscure; because as someone with no academic background in literature myself (instead, I studied photography), I have to admit that Bellow was one of the many important writers in history I knew almost nothing about before opening CCLaP, and in fact it seems that he's rapidly falling off the cultural radar just in general these days as well. And that's a shame, because as I've discovered in the last year (not only from reading this novel but also Humboldt's Gift for the CCLaP 100), Bellow was profoundly more important to the 20th-century arts than a lot of us realize anymore, a smart and funny blue-collar intellectual who not only helped define Late Modernism and Postmodernism, but was literally one of the first Jewish authors in history to gain a global following, paving the way for the post-Holocaust "mainstreaming" of Judaism, leading eventually to Mel Brooks and then Philip Roth and then Jerry Seinfeld.

And the irony, of course, is that this "most American" of American writers is an immigrant twice removed; a first-generation Ukrainian whose upper-middle-class family was forced to flee in the early 1900s, he grew up in Canada under a mother who was never able to let go of how much they had lost from their forced relocation, a scrounging day laborer who was ironically raised with a fine appreciation for classic literature and philosophical thought. It was only after moving to America, though, going to college, being drafted into World War Two, then holding a series of odd jobs all over the various neighborhoods of Chicago that it first hit Bellow to try combining these high- and low-brow elements of his life into complex works of fiction; and after a couple of overly serious, not very popular novels in the late 1940s, it was Augie at the dawn of Late Modernism that established the sort of meandering tone and almost absurdist humor that was to mark the rest of his extremely long and productive career. (Bellow lived until his nineties, dying just a few years ago, was still publishing award-winning new fiction into his eighties, won both the Nobel and the Pulitzer at various points in his life, is the only person in history to win the National Book Award three times, and is also the only person in history to be nominated for it six.)

And indeed, when I first sat down a few weeks ago to read Augie myself, I quickly found myself just really entranced and addicted to the loose, anecdotal, causally connected style that Bellow establishes right away, a book that's just as famous as everything else for being one of the first great odes to the American immigrant experience, not a wish-fulfillment morality tale about assimilation and becoming a good little docile citizen (like virtually all stories about immigrants had been before then), but rather a loud, messy celebration of the chaos and shady dealings that marked most immigrants' real experiences, a full-armed embrace of the idea that a man literally defines himself in the US using any criteria he wants, versus the pre-ordained class and caste and serf systems that still existed in so many other parts of the world at the time. And that's really the main thing to know about Augie before reading it, that it doesn't really follow a traditional three-act structure at all, a Modernist academic experiment that made its explosive commercial success such a huge surprise to nearly everyone involved; instead, it's written as if Augie were simply sitting at an older age and reminiscing about his youth, moving organically from story to story and with there being no big beginning, middle and end to his tale. Instead, Augie lives a life of random starts and stops that is much like ours, albeit much more bizarre and exciting than most of ours will ever be, an autobiographical element that was the singlemost biggest reason for its initial bestseller status; tackling the same mesmerizing 1930s Great Depression events as were being looked at by actual 1930s Social Realist authors like Richard Wright and Nelson Algren (two of Bellow's co-workers at the Chicago WPA office during the New Deal years), but in his case written twenty years later when a more even-handed look could be taken, Augie is full of such derring-do as riding the rails hobo-style, getting involved with bootleggers and gangsters, sneaking around high society under false pretenses and more, but with a kind of rascal/scamp humor that the dour, politically motivated Social Realists of the '30s were never able to bring to their work*, a textbook example of the "picaresque" novel that both exposes the kinds of injustices and hard-scrabble lives that so many Americans were living back then, but also kind of gleefully celebrates this life too, arguing that it at least made them as young men feel really alive, really in charge of their own destinies.

But of course, as mentioned before, don't underestimate how profoundly important this work has been to the development of 20th-century Jewish-American culture as well, and specifically how the sometimes exotic ins-and-outs of daily Yiddish life have been acknowledged and dealt with by the vastly larger Christian population around these people since the end of World War Two. As regular readers know, this is an endlessly interesting subject to me, that I've dealt with in much more detail in my essays on Philip Roth's "Zuckerman" series that I'm in the middle of reading; how important it is to remember, for example, just how anti-Semitic the US in general was before the rise of Nazism (as was the rest of the world), and how it was the shocking events of the Holocaust that first started changing millions of Americans' attitudes towards Jews for the first time, an easing of discrimination that many weary post-war Jews wanted to encourage by never reminding Christian-Americans of their Jewishness ever again, making it a scandal when someone like Bellow delved so matter-of-factly into it in a national bestseller like Augie, not just acknowledging the strange-sounding Yiddish parts of his culture but also daring to admit that the Jewish community sometimes sees dysfunction, dark humor over its own foibles, and yes, sometimes even voluntary reinforcements of lazy Jewish stereotypes. A lot of assimilation-oriented, Holocaust-surviving Jews did not like Bellow at all for doing this; but for people like Roth, Brooks, Woody Allen and Neil Simon, who were all in their teens and twenties when Augie first came out, it showed them that it was possible to address the details of their Jewish lives with candor, humor and self-deprecation, that it was even possible to win over Gentile audiences with such work, without the usual Shylockian "they're laughing AT you, not WITH you" worries of pre-war Jews. And thus did a novel like Augie in the '50s begat something like Roth's Portnoy's Complaint in the '60s, which begat Annie Hall in the '70s, which all eventually led to a sitcom in the '90s about seder and Hanukkah and the Catskills and rye loaves becoming one of the most beloved artistic projects in American history.

The Adventures of Augie March is all of these things and more -- for example, also a meditation on extended families, additions and losses to such families, truth, beauty, and all kinds of other deep subjects -- and it's a shame that Bellow's reputation is starting to wane a bit among the general population, because after reading him it's easy to see why so many people count him as one of the top three influential writers of the entire 20th century. And like I said, the CPL's embrace and promotion of Bellow is just one of the things that makes it so great to be both a writer an a heavy reader in Chicago in the 2000s, and why I'd be willing to compare this city's literary community against almost any other in the world and bet that ours will at least match it if not come out on top. I'll be attending many of the related events going on this month for this book's promotion, and writing up little field reports for the blog; but for now, I strongly encourage you to pick up a copy of this remarkable novel and give it a read yourself, and of course I congratulate the Chicago Public Library for ten fantastic years of bringing the city's book lovers together in the unique, powerful way they have.

*And in fact, I think it no coincidence that, of the dozens of radically left, communism-friendly Chicago writers being published in the 1930s, the only three we've still heard of (Wright, Algren and Bellow) were all deemed more Trotskyist than Stalinist, all balked at the Stalinist idea that art should always serve a serious political purpose, and all eventually quit these communist-friendly groups in disgust long before the Red Scare of the 1950s. I think it no coincidence at all that out of all those writers back then, these are the only three still worth reading.
Profile Image for Boris.
405 reviews152 followers
February 15, 2022
Четенето на Оги Марч за мен беше като делириум. Вдъхновяваща, интересна, от типа книги, които като приключиш, те оставят с истинско чувство за раздяла. Няма сюжет, има само приключения и десетки интересни герои. Много рядко се случва да попадна на такава книга.
Profile Image for robin friedman.
1,769 reviews204 followers
May 7, 2021
Augie March

"I am an American, Chicago-born, that somber city ...and go at things as I have taught myself, freestyle, and will make the record in my own way: first to knock, first admitted, sometimes an innocent knock, sometimes a not so innocent. But a man's character is his fate, says Heraclitus, and in the end there isn't any way to disguise the nature of the knocks by acoustical work on the door or gloving the knuckles."

This, the opening paragraph of Bellow's large, sprawling, and exuberant novel, "The Adventures of Augie March" (1953) announces its themes at the outset. We have the narrator's, Augie March's, own voice, both pugnacious and reflective. First and foremost, Augie March is "an American". His story will be a reflection on the American experience, especially as it involves large cities and the Chicago where Augie March grew up. Augie, looking ahead to the story he is about to tell, describes himself as free-wheeling, and learning about things as his life impulsively proceeds. Augie is also a lover of books and learning, as witnessed by his allusion to the Pre-Socratic Greek philosopher, Heraclitus who taught that "a man's character is his fate." Augie will learn and expand upon this lesson as he goes along and also will learn about many other books and ideas.

Augie's story is centered in Chicago. It begins just before the Depression, when Augie is a young boy and continues through WW II and its aftermath in the 1940's when Augie is married and living as a black marketeer in Paris, wondering where life will take him next. In between, Augie tells a long yarn full of adventure, turns and twists, difficulties, and women. Augie is also a highly reflective individual, and the boisterousness of his story is accompanied by thoughts on the course of his life and its significance.

Augie has two brothers, the ambitious and successful older brother Simon and the feeble-minded George. Augie's father abandoned the family at an early age. Augie and his brothers are raised by "Grandma Lausch" who in fact is unrelated to him and by his quiet and unassuming mother. Simon is intelligent and alive to the main chance. He graduates first in his high school, marries well, and becomes a highly successful entrepreneur.

Augie's life takes a different course and is harder to define. He partly goes where life takes him and he partly makes his own opportunities. As an adolescent he becomes involved with an entrepreneurial swindler named Einhorn who becomes the first of Augie's many protectors. He takes up with a rich family in Evanston, Ill, who offer him security and who wish to adopt him. But Augie goes his own way. He has many jobs, some honest, some not, reads voraciously even though he never graduates from college, has numerous love affairs, serious, and casual, and somehow works himself through a life of ups and downs. He becomes a labor organizer, travels to Mexico training an eagle with an eccentric woman whom he loves, enlists in the Merchant Marine, where he spends days on the open sea with a crazy mate before he is rescued, and ultimately marries Stella, an actress and one of the many women from his past. With his marriage to Stella, Augie finds he learns the meaning of love, for all his shortcomings and those of his wife.

Augie learns to see himself as an individual, neither determined by his circumstances nor fully independent of them. He becomes a life-long thinker who learns from books as well as from his own experience. He tries to learn to shape himself, to the extent he can, and to take his experiences and be happy. His story is a massive commentary on being an American and on the meaning of Heraclitus's dictum that "character is fate", the themes announced as the book begins. The book rejects the themes of alienation and of being an outsider that were and remain a feature of American intellectual life and that were prominent in Bellow's first novel, "Dangling Man." Alienation gives way to activity, a commitment to the promise and value of American life, and a sense that literature, philosophy, and learning can help to better the human condition.

"The Adventures of Augie March" was the first of three of Bellow's novels that received the National Book Award. It is a rewarding but difficult read that pulls in many directions, street-wise tough and intellectually demanding, simultaneously. Bellow captures the voice of the streets of Jewish Chicago, with long, involuted sentences, passion, humor, and swagger. The book is long and diffuse and at times it flags. In its robust and energetic portrayal of a person, a city, and a nation, and in its devotion to literature and thought, "Augie March" remains an inspiring story.

Robin Friedman
Profile Image for فهد الفهد.
Author 1 book4,726 followers
March 19, 2017
مغامرات أوجي مارتش

في عمل عملاق يتمدد على ستمئة صفحة من القطع الكبير، يأخذنا النوبلي سول بيلو إلى أمريكا بدايات القرن العشرين مع بطله (أوجي مارتش) والذي يشبه في شخصيته وصفاته الملايين من البشر، فأوجي إنسان منضوٍ في مشاريع الآخرين، لا يمتلك مشروعاً شخصياً، ليس لديه رؤية واضحة لحياته ولا ما يمكن له أن يفعله، لهذا يجد نفسه في كل مرة جزءً من مشروع شخص آخر، وفي كل مرة ينتهي هذا بشكل سيء، حتى أن أوجي نفسه وفي لحظة تنوير مهمة في نهايات الرواية يكتشف ذلك:

"فزعت وأصابني الذعر... لأنني لمحت من جديد تلك الإشارة التي ولدت تحتها، أن أكون تابعاً، عنصراً منضوياً ضمن خطة شخص ما".

وأوجي ليس وحيداً في ذلك، فالأرض تفيض بكل المنضوين في مشاريع كبيرة أو صغيرة، ربما هو ذلك الشعور المريح، عندما يكف الإنسان عن سؤال نفسه الأسئلة الكبرى، ��يترك للآخرين قيادته وتقرير الحقائق عنه، ربما هي كذلك وسيلة لإلقاء اللوم على الآخرين عندما لا تسير الأمور كما يجب.

كلنا منضوون بشكل أو بآخر، سياسياً واقتصادياً واجتماعياً وثقافياً، وعينا ذلك أو لم نعه، وجل ما يفعله البعض منا هو محاولة مقاومة الانضواء في أحد هذه المشاريع بشكل أو بآخر.

لا توجد قصة كبيرة في (مغامرات أوجي مارتش)، القصة الكبيرة هي أوجي وعلاقاته، بجدته الديكتاتورية، وأمه المسكينة وأخيه المخبول جورجي، وسايمون الأخ الآخر الذي يحاول النجاح والفرار من قدر العائلة، علاقاته كذلك مع الأشخاص والنساء، المشاريع الغريبة التي يساق إليها من تربية الكلاب فسرقة الكتب وصيد السحالي في المكسيك بواسطة نسر.

هذه رواية لا تنسى، تصطف في ذاكرتي مع الروايات الأمريكية العظيمة والتي قدمت لي شخصيات غريبة ومميزة من (ستونر) ف�� (بابت) و (تحالف الأغبياء).
Profile Image for Cosimo.
408 reviews
October 23, 2015
Lasciar le donne? Pazzo!

“Quando ho iniziato il mio racconto ho detto che sarei stato semplice e avrei risposto ai colpi come venivano, e anche il carattere di un uomo è il suo destino. Be', allora è ovvio che questo destino, o quello di cui si accontenta, è anche il suo carattere”.

«Prima scrivi e poi cancelli: e questo lo chiami lavorare». Così il padre Abram Bellow commentò negli anni Trenta la scelta del figlio di dedicarsi alla letteratura come mestiere. Un padre che non ebbe la fortuna di apprendere, nel 1976, che suo figlio Saul aveva ricevuto il premio Nobel. Augie March è un Bellow come vorrebbe essere, ebbe a dire il cantore più ironico e prosaico della Chicago della Grande Depressione. Dentro queste pagine dense di verità romanzesche ci sono le origini russe ebraiche, lo studio della Bibbia, l'adolescenza protratta sui libri e sui classici, l'ambiente cittadino come luogo magico, il fascino e l'attrazione per le donne, gli amori e i tradimenti, i conflitti e gli abbandoni, le amicizie e le influenze e i maestri di vita, le innumerevoli esperienze di lavoro e il viaggio e la formazione. Come personaggi di finzione, polemica, sarcasmo, umorismo, scetticismo rendono altamente permeabili i confini degli scenari umani e sociali che si sviluppano tra parola e azione, tra pensiero e fatto: una scuola di vita smisurata e dispettosa per un intelligentissimo schlemiel che non si nega nulla e mai si nega all'altra. Lo scorrere delle vicende è un fiume avventuroso nel quale Augie cerca il senso dello stare al mondo, scoprendolo ogni giorno in un nuovo caso, un buffo episodio, una strana circostanza, peripezie, prove, relazioni, accadimenti. Ruba qualcosa ad ogni persona che incontra e si confronta con gli altri per affinare la percezione della realtà, con vitalità, per liberare nell'aria quello spirito curioso e astuto che rende la sua odissea circolare e straordinaria. Non siamo tutti prigionieri? “Perché gli esseri umani sono pronti a cedere agli inganni della storia precedente, mentre le semplici creature vedono con i loro occhi?”. E' una domanda profonda che Bellow investiga con partecipazione e discernimento: la prigione della visione che gli altri hanno di noi e insieme delle quattro mura del nostro essere. L'angoscia, la colpa, le contraddizioni, la disillusione, il vuoto di speranze che la abitano in nostra sconsiderata compagnia. E gli infiniti modi per resisterle, per evaderne con l'impegno e l'ideale, con i sogni e le disillusioni, le utopie e le sfide, il successo e il piacere. Per raggiungere quello stato d'animo nel quale si frequenta una vita che è un trionfo periodico (contiamo solo quando qualcuno ci ama, se no siamo solo elementi di scambio). Infatti tutti soffriamo per quello che siamo, ma l'amore è ciò che impedisce al fatto di essere nati di essere un incidente o un inconveniente; e di fronte all'amore siamo doppiamente impotenti: non possiamo opporci ad esso né liberarci delle sue conseguenze (l'amore in Bellow è infinito ed è adulterio, è alterità, mutamento). Un autore complesso e multiforme, ingegnoso e erudito che introduce il lettore nella sofferenza della crisi economica e della guerra, esperienze dal volto roccioso che appartengono alla morte, spaventoso rapitore che ne insegue i passi, da battere come una vecchia nemica. Di fronte all'ombra delle cose, la delusione necessaria, l'opposto del finito, gli eroi di Bellow si svegliano e lavorano per costruirsi un destino degno di un uomo; essi sono tante anime che non smettono di fremere di rabbia davanti a un destino di poca importanza e con questo sentimento tentano in ogni maniera di resistere e convivere, di adeguarsi alle leggi del vivere, fuggendo la meshuggah. Su quale parte abbia la biografia dell'autore nel riflettersi dialetticamente e specularmente nelle pieghe tragicomiche e viscerali degli eventi romanzeschi hanno scritto in modo eccellente studiosi come Guido Fink, Livia Manera e Franco Marcoaldi. E certo è vincente infine lo sfortunato Augie March che veste elegantemente l'abito calviniano indossando il quale è permesso “diventare senza smettere di essere, essere senza smettere di diventare”: cosa che a un semplice mortale suona come un irreperibile segreto, ma che per il narratore canadese consiste con naturalezza nell'essere se stesso, continuando a scrivere rigorosamente e con audacia la propria fortuna.

«Ci vuole un momento come questo per scoprire quanto ha sofferto il tuo cuore; e per capire, come se non bastasse, che per tutto il tempo in cui hai creduto di oziare si stava svolgendo un duro lavoro. Un duro, durissimo lavoro, di scavo e perforazione, di miniera, aprendo gallerie come talpe, alzando, spingendo, spostando la roccia, lavorando, lavorando, lavorando, ansimando, tirando, caricando. E di questo lavoro non si vede nulla dall'esterno. Si svolge internamente. Questo succede perché sei impotente e incapace di raggiungere il tuo obiettivo, di avere giustizia o la mercede pattuita, e perciò dentro di te tu fatichi, tu lotti e combatti, regoli conti, ricordi insulti, attacchi, rispondi, neghi, ciarli, denunci, trionfi, superi in astuzia, vinci, vendichi, piangi, insisti, assolvi, muori e risorgi. Tutto da solo! Dove sono gli altri? Nel tuo petto e nel tuo sangue, tutti quanti».
Profile Image for Adam Floridia.
582 reviews30 followers
June 13, 2012
Only vaguely familiar with the name Saul Bellow, I can thank goodreads for, yet again, helping me discover a great book. Seeing it on one of my friend’s 5-star lists, I decided to give Augie March a read, especially after seeing that another friend had written something so highly of the author.

The first few pages reinforced exactly what Eric claimed: not since Nabokov have I been blown away by language like this. Nabokov’s sentences are long, often meandering, intensely vivid and smooth. Bellows are long and intensely vivid but, to repeat one of my early impressions, “tornad-ic” in that the appositives and clauses are so uniquely organized. Every time a new character is introduced, Bellow unleashes a cyclone of description—no indirect characterization here!—that perfectly and completely renders the character, but in sentences with staccato syntax that work like a mosaic. I definitely had to adjust my reading to take it all in. A few examples will suffice:

o “Mostly for the satisfaction of dexterity, though Stashu invented the game of stripping in the cellar and putting on girl’s things swiped from clotheslines. Then he too showed up in a gang that caught me one cold afternoon of very little snow while I was sitting on a crate frozen into the mud, eating Nabisco wafers, my throat full of the sweet dust. Foremost, there was a thug of a kid, about thirteen but undersized, hard and grieved-looking” (11).

o “Their families were trying to get them out, but in the meantime they had been shipped to Nicaragua and were fighting Sandino and the rebels. She grieved terribly, as if he were dead already. And as she had great size and terrific energy of constitution she produced all kinds of excesses. Even physical ones: moles, blebs, hairs, bumps in her forehead, huge concentration in her neck; she had spiraling reddish hair springing with no negligible beauty and definiteness springing from her scalp, tangling as it widened out, cut duck-tail fashion in the back and scrawled out high above her ears. Originally strong, her voice was crippled by weeping and asthma, and the whites of her eyes coppery from the same causes, a burning, morose face, piteous, and her spirit untamed by thoughts or the remote considerations that can reconcile people to awfuler luck than she had” (16).

Those are both from the beginning only because they are the first two I came across—I certainly could have opened the book at random and found other examples.

As for the story, it just recounts the life of Augie March, “an Americn, Chicago born—Chicago, that somber city—[who] goes at things as [he] has taught himself, freestyle, and will make the record in [his] own way, first to knock, first admitted; sometimes an innocent knock, sometimes a not so innocent” (first sentence).

Early on Augie admits, “I didn’t have a singleness of purpose but was more diffuse” (30), later adding “All the influences were lined up for me. I was born, and there they were to form me, which is why I tell you more of them than of myself” (45). What follows is a very entertaining account of all of the adventures (more like life-paths) that Augie ends up on. I make sure to use the passive “ends up on” because random, strange, criminal, classy, (and more) bump into Augie and then carry him along for the ride. At one point, a friend tells him “You can’t let your life be decided for you by any old thing that comes up” (297). Seems like good advice, but advice that Augie is just not fated to follow.

As extra-ordinary as some of those paths on which Augie finds himself are, Bellow manages to imbue an essential ingredient of great books: the reader can relate to this. I’ve never been a falconer, but I could relate to getting totally into something new because a girlfriend enjoys it. I’ve never tried to transport illegal immigrants, but I can certainly recall doing really, really dumb/illegal things because friends suggested them. I never worked for a millionaire thanks to a friend, but I did get my first job at Taco Bell only because a friend worked there.

In addition to being a very enjoyable read—I really did like Augie—this book got me thinking about how much the people in our lives have a profound influence on the course of our life.

A favorite quotation:
Metaphor for being well-read: "I still had the craving I had given in to all summer long when I had lived on books, to have the reach to grasp both ends of the frame and turn the big image-taking glass to any scene of the world" (274).

Profile Image for Ruthiella.
1,425 reviews47 followers
December 28, 2009
536 pages of very small type, I might add. What a chore reading this book was! I began reading it in 2008 and finished over a year later... and this was my third attempt. Bellows uses every adjective in the dictionary. Never heard of Belshazzar or Pasiphaë? Me neither, but Bellows has, and he inserts every historical, mythological, biblical and classical reference, every Yiddish, Latin and French phrase, as well as every long word in English he knows, as if to say, “Hey, look how smart I am!”. Ostensibly, the book is written by Augie, so maybe that is the point, since Augie is largely self-educated. But I found myself reading entire paragraphs without understanding the meaning. And to me, that makes reading just a waste of time. However, on the bright side, this is one more book from the Modern Library’s list 100 best novels in English of the 20th century that I can cross off.
Profile Image for Clif Hostetler.
1,056 reviews682 followers
April 8, 2021
Augie March is a young Chicago man graduating from high school in the late 1920s and hustling a living through the 1930s depression. As his adventures continue through to the end of WWII he spends time in Mexico, in New York, in the Merchant Marine, in a raft in the Atlantic, and finally in Paris.

The life of Augie is incredibly varied moving from job to job, which is surprising considering that this is occurring during the time of the Great Depression. He also moves from relationship to relationship, both women and employers, many of whom are wealthy. And as if the wide varieties of jobs and relationships weren’t enough, he moves from place to place eventually going to Mexico and Paris.

Augie narrates the story in first person expanding on the descriptions of people and places in excruciating detail. Ironically he describes everybody but himself. What we come of understand about him comes through the events and people who have influence upon him. Augie informs the reader that this is his intent.
All the influences were lined up waiting for me. I was born, and there they were to form me, which is why I tell you more of them than of myself. (4.1)
An elderly boarder in his family’s home describes him as easy to manipulate, which the subsequent story confirms.
…you’re too easy to tickle … Promise you a joke, a laugh, a piece of candy, or a lick of ice-cream, and you’ll leave everything and run.” (3.8)
His success with young women and his ability to win the confidence of rich people—one couple offered to adopt him—indicate that he apparently is blessed with a combination of charisma and good looks. We certainly know he has an extensive vocabulary from the endless flow of words coming from the descriptions of his adventures filling up six hundred pages (22 hours of audio) with text.

Of course we know that these words are provided by the author Saul Bellow, and since he is also from Chicago and from the same approximate age as Augie, I couldn’t help but wonder how much of the story is autobiographic. The writing skills on display in this book are impressive.

The story itself has no apparent arc of achievement other than the fact the Augie grows older, eventually gets married, and ends up in the export/import business in post-war Europe. But along the way the story reads much as a bumper-car joy ride leading in no particular direction. The end of the book has nothing that appears to be a conclusion. The book's publisher must have unexpectedly grabbed the manuscript away from the author saying, "No more words!"

The following is a copy of a short review of The Adventures of Augie March taken from PageADay's 1,000 Books to Read Before You Die calendar for Wednesday, October 28, 2020:
“I am an American, Chicago born—Chicago, that somber city—and go at things as I have taught myself, free-style, and will make the record in my own way: first to knock, first admitted; sometimes an innocent knock, sometimes a not so innocent.”
The title of Saul Bellow’s The Adventures of Augie March evokes Huckleberry Finn, and the voice that tells it—like the one Mark Twain created for Huck—is alive with the energies of speech. From the outset, Augie March grabs our ear and yanks it exuberantly. Ever restless, Bellow’s irrepressible hero roams from Chicago to Mexico and on into postwar Europe—“Look at me, going everywhere!” He taunts himself—where he’s wheeling and dealing at story’s end, still searching “for the right thing to do, for a fate good enough.” It sounds like an American story in more ways that one.
Profile Image for Jim.
1,088 reviews64 followers
December 22, 2020
This book reminded me of Dickens' "David Copperfield," a book I read for my English class back in high school in the Sixties. I remember we spent a lot of time discussing all the various characters, all richly described by Dickens, and all having their own particular eccentricities. Having just finished "The Adventures of Augie March" by Saul Bellow (1915-2005) and published in 1953, I felt that I had been inundated by a procession of characters, some of them strange, all of them richly described--as in Dickens. At the beginning of "Copperfield," the protagonist states, "Whether I shall turn out to be the hero of my own life, or whether that station will be held by anybody else, these pages must show..." That could apply to Augie March, who seems to be unable to become the hero of his own story.
Born a poor Jewish boy on the West Side of Chicago, Augie grows up, mainly drifting through life, unable to commit to a course of action. He seems to be overly dependent on mentors and peers who seek to advise him. He takes on a wide variety of jobs, including being an assistant to a shady businessman and becoming a union organizer. For awhile, he steals books. He also gets involved with a number of women. In fact, it's a woman who gets him involved in his most unusual adventure--taking an eagle to Mexico and using it to catch big lizards in the mountains there...Following his Mexican adventure, Augie begins to form an idea of what he wants to do when he finally settles down. But World War II intervenes and Augie gets involved ....Does he ever commit himself to a woman and to a life that can satisfy him?
i give this novel 4 stars out of 5. As much as I enjoyed Bellow's writing, especially the dialogues, the book was just too verbose and would have been improved I think by being somewhat shorter in length. Perhaps fewer characters...I suppose most of the readers of this book would disagree....?
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