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Ham On Rye: A Novel [Paperback]

Charles Bukowski
4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (103 customer reviews)
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Book Description

Feb. 15 2007

In what is widely hailed as the best of his many novels, Charles Bukowski details the long, lonely years of his own hardscrabble youth in the raw voice of alter ego Henry Chinaski. From a harrowingly cheerless childhood in Germany through acne-riddled high school years and his adolescent discoveries of alcohol, woman, and the Los Angeles Public Library's collection of D.H. Lawrence, Ham on Rye offers a crude, brutal, and savagely funny portrait of an outcast's coming-of-age during the desperate days of the Great Depression.

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Charles Bukowski's fourth novel, Ham on Rye, is the semi-autobiographical story of the early years of his alter ego Henry Chinaski. It is a finely written and honest account of the painful childhood of a boy marked out from his peers. Regularly beaten by his father, Chinaski is shown growing through his difficult and violent adolescence (struck with the worst case of acne his doctors have ever seen) through to the first jobs he can't and won't hold down. In this moving story of growing up Bukowski disciplines his muscular, concentrated writing and creates a novel that distils his poetry into the finest full-length piece of prose that he ever wrote. Bukowski is often good but in Ham on Rye he's great.

Sadly, best known as the alcoholic inspiration for the film Barfly (an experience he reflected on in his book Hollywood), it is as a poet, rather than a drunk, that Bukowski should be best remembered. His bitter, caustic, direct, humane, damaged poetry reflects a life dominated by poverty and booze. His poetry stretches over many, many volumes but Bukowski also wrote great novels: all of them have many faults but the first four books he wrote shine for similar reasons. Post Office and Factotum both dissect, quite brilliantly, the life of an angry, poor man forced to do mindless jobs, pushed around and considered mindless by the fools who force him to do them. Women, as Roddy Doyle points out in his short introduction, continues the themes but focuses on the numerous women who share his hero's bed and bottle. --Mark Thwaite --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.


'Very funny, very sad, and despite its self-congratulatory tone, honest in most of the right places. In many ways, Bukowski may have been the perfect writer to describe post-war southern California - a land of wide, flat spaces with nothing worth seeing, so you might as well vanish into yourself. In an age of conformity, Bukowski wrote about the people nobody wanted to be: the ugly, the selfish, the lonely, the mad.' - The Observer --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

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Customer Reviews

Most helpful customer reviews
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars bukowski's finest Jan. 16 2008
sure, some might say this book lacks something, but it certainly isn't writing, and i'm not one of the people who thinks it's lacking anything at all. one of the finest books bukowski ever published, tells his story of growing up with an abusive father and a mother who seemed like she didn't really care.

i finished this book in one day, laughing and shaking my head at some of the things bukowski had to go through.

this book is more polished than post office, factotum, et all, and it's still a very fun read.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Compelling Aug. 26 2009
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Obviously a man of independent thought, Henry Chinaski the main character and Mr. Bukowski's alter ego suffers the travails of an abusive father and anemic mother who enables his father to continue to bully all those over whom he has power. The consequences for Henry are disastrous. Rather than praise the boy for cutting the family's lawn, Henry is beaten should one strand of grass be longer than the rest. Any chance the boy might find refuge from the cruelty at he experiences at home, is dashed when his adolescence brings with him a debilitating case of acne. But, Henry is tough. His childhood has made him a survivor. He fights one of the preppy boys with whom he attended high school, and, at first, gets pummeled but, eventually, the preppy tires and Henry proceeds to give a thorough beating. A survivor. Ham on Rye is a compelling novel that had me engrossed from beginning to end. Well worth, the few hours required for reading.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Bukowski as "Survivor" July 12 2005
I didn't know what to expect when I picked up Ham on Rye by Bukowski. I'd read some assorted poems and short stories of his that I found amusing because of their bluntness and coarseness. I found that Ham On Rye was much in the same vein: that is, the story of a non-comformist who has to pay the price in America for not selling out and becoming just another salesman or suit. Bukowski needed to follow his own music. This book is obviously autobiographical, and it depicts his rough and sad childhood: his abusive father who wouldn't cut him any slack, his skin condition that pock-marked his face and made him feel like an outcast, his alienation from school and his classmates, his alienation from most of America and the values America holds most dear: being the "alpha dog," the big "winner." Bukowski in effect is a foreigner in his own land, a socially isolated individual who escapes the cruelty of people by eventually becoming a writer and indulging in drink -- while longing for a poetry that our banal consumer society tries to squash. I love this book. It's an easy-to-read and very personal novel, which would probably be marketed today as a "memoir." I know Bukowski is NOT read in college and that's because he's generally "anti-New Yorker," anti-understatement. He's the John Belushi (think of Pluto in Animal House) of literature. His characters WILL COME OUT TALKING, LIKE THIS!!.. Reading Bukowski is an intimate experience, like reading the work of a friend or watching a friend's home-movie. He's largely a self-taught artist so his work is sometimes rough, sometimes over-the-top, sometimes sloppy -- but always full of humor and always largely entertaining and loads of fun. This is my first Bukowski novel, but it certainly won't be my last! Read more ›
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5.0 out of 5 stars the best Dec 1 2003
Charles Bukowski was the greatest writer of the late 2oth century. i would still probably be a writer if i had never discovered the works of Charles Bukowski but i wouldn't be as good of one.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great writing from a master March 2 2006
HAM ON RYE is one of my all-time favorite novels. In all of Bukowski's work there is a constant search for truth and freedom. With every breath that Bukowski takes he is locked in a fevered struggle with the forces around him that contiually attempt to make him walk the path of the common man. His writing has been likened to that of McCrae (think, his KATZENJAMMER) and for a good reason: both men have a knack for keen observation, wit, and writing style that knocks you over. But Bukowski sees this “common man path” as nothing more than falling into a lock step towards certain death. Though he portrays himself as a repulsive type of human being, he is able to convince us that it is the world around him that is far more repulsive. In Ham On Rye, we are lead through the more meaningful chapters of Bukowski's childhood and early adulthood. There are very few pieces of literature that reaches readers with more honesty. I plow through Bukowski like I do Cap'n'Crunch. The man inspires drunken poetry on hot summer nights- while talking about women, booze, masturbation, classical music, & horse racing. This book is my new favorite. Why? Because while facinating the reader with lurid tales of a painful and depressing childhood, Bukowski makes us laugh, cry, and feel sorry for that kid we made fun of in 7th grade. If you liked POST OFFICE or McCrae’s KATZENJAMMER, then you’ll love HAM ON RYE as well. All are great, and this novel is the best place to start if you’re new to the BUKOWSKI canon of literature.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Explains things Oct. 8 2009
If you started with his poetry like I did it gives you an idea of where he's coming from, and what his life experience was like up until a certain point. There are probably times when he exaggerates or stretches the truth a bit (at least I hope there are) but it doesn't diminish it's readability. It certainly wasn't an easy life but it was much easier than expected after I'd read so many of his poems. Worth your time.
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Most recent customer reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Ham on Rye
Ham on Rye is based around the troubles that go along with growing up, in the normal blunt, coarse Bukowski way. Read more
Published on April 22 2004 by mary magnum
5.0 out of 5 stars Ham On Rye
The book "Ham On Rye" is about a young teenage boy named Henry. Henry is experiencing the normal occurences that a teenage boy his age does. Read more
Published on April 22 2004 by TyRease James
3.0 out of 5 stars Unnecessary
I have to say I was a bit disappointed with Bukowski's autobiography. It lacked the humor and immediacy of his other writings. Read more
Published on April 16 2004 by James Ferguson
5.0 out of 5 stars Bukowski as "Survivor"
I didn't know what to expect when I picked up Ham on Rye by Bukowski. I'd read some assorted poems and short stories of his that I found amusing because of their bluntness and... Read more
Published on March 19 2004
5.0 out of 5 stars Undisputed mastery in narration...
At one point in this book, the main character has started a reading mission by going to the library, picking out books (mainly the "classics") and reading them frantically. Read more
Published on March 8 2004 by Takis Tz.
5.0 out of 5 stars Up Through the Darkness!
HAM ON RYE is the semi-autobiographical story of Charles Bukowski and his unhappy childhood. It's written in a very easy-to-digest style using simple language and may be his... Read more
Published on Feb. 24 2004
5.0 out of 5 stars Uttlery Fantastic
I won't bore you with a full detailed explaination of the book or gush for line upon line about how great it is. This book nor the author don't need it. Read more
Published on Feb. 16 2004
5.0 out of 5 stars the way writing should be
Charles Bukowski was a genius, and this book for me epitomizes great writing. Succinct and to the point, honest and thought-provoking, without any of the superfluous... Read more
Published on Feb. 3 2004 by Scott Taylor
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