5.0 out of 5 stars Not just for fans of dead white men...
How did Saul Bellow get into my head? How does this man-whom I picture as some kind of Ur-white male, entombed in Great Books, plastered with awards and walled up in an ivy tower-speak so directly to my experience as a young woman in 2004? I guess is the same reason that Tolstoy gets to the heart of failing relationships more vividly than any chick-lit author, and...
Published on March 30 2004 by Dangle's girl
3.0 out of 5 stars Why should I care?
This book was probably the most hit-and-miss I have ever read. I really enjoyed the stream of consciousness internal monologues by the main character, and after having read this and other books by Bellow, I've decided Bellow is the most original thinker of 20th century English language writers, capable of the most profundity. However, this book had little to hold it up in...
Published on Dec 28 2002 by Prospective Customer
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5.0 out of 5 stars Not just for fans of dead white men...,
How did Saul Bellow get into my head? How does this man-whom I picture as some kind of Ur-white male, entombed in Great Books, plastered with awards and walled up in an ivy tower-speak so directly to my experience as a young woman in 2004? I guess is the same reason that Tolstoy gets to the heart of failing relationships more vividly than any chick-lit author, and Flaubert's descriptions of desire are so much more piercing than any "Sex and the City" episode. Sheer, freaking genius.
Don't let Bellow's "white-maleness" or the blizzard of high-culture references scare you off-this is an incredibly moving and powerful book. Sammler, a Holocaust survivor and exiled European intellectual, is watching his life run down in 1960s New York. So much has changed, and so much stays the same. As I was reading this book on the subway in 2004, Bellow could have been sitting next to me in the car, describing what was happening on the platforms rushing by. "Sammler" made me miss my stop more than once, needless to say. His America is "vast slums filled with bohemian adolescents, narcotized, beflowered and 'whole.'" Yet all of Sammler's and his family's sufferings are somehow uplifting, illustrating the power of a mind over the external world.
Please read this book.
4.0 out of 5 stars Bellow at his almost best,
This is my sixth Bellow novel. For first timers, I would highly recommend Henderson the Rain King over this work because Henderson is an easier, funnier, and more exuberant read--a great parody of the Hemmingway novel. That said, Mr. Sammler's Planet is classic Bellow. The protagonist, Mr. Sammler, is heroically flawed (as all of Bellow's protagonists are) and is caught at a point in his late life where numerous themes challenge his moral center: misogyny, pessimism, death, the human condition, the social contract, filial duty, the achievements of science, and modern western philosphy among other themes--and in any great Bellow work, there are so many themes!
The narrative is simple: a close third person point of view brings us inside Mr. Sammler's head as he interprets and analyzes the events in his life: his dying nephew, a pick pocket who assualts him, greedy relatives, a missing manuscript, and his Holocaust experience. There are long philosophic digressions, sometimes humorous, sometimes didactic, that can frustrate, confuse, and enlighten the reader, all within the space of a single paragraph. This density of thought is one of the supreme challenges of Bellow, but as an ardent fan (who only "gets" a mere fraction of what he's talking about), the payoff is exponentially greater than the effort I put in. The only narrative flaw I find is in the dialogue between Sammler and Dr. Lal. It's structured in a Platonic form--reminiscent of the final chapter in Joyce's Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man--and the section seems forced and stilted compared to the rest of the novel.
Bellow's prose is as strong as ever. We return to New York City in the late 1960s, much filthier and more violent than the setting of Seize the Day. His descriptions of people and places are vibrant, and his comic timing masterful.
Ultimately, Mr. Sammler's climatic quest, like all of Bellow's protagonists, lies not in some external feat of physical valor but in a confrontation with the progtagonist's soul. Faced with the death of his nephew, Sammler must come to terms with his life as holocaust survivor, elitist intellectual, misogynist, and man.
Saul Bellow is not for everyone... But if you are introspective, self critical, and enjoy philosophic and comic writing, than this would be an ideal 2nd or 3rd Bellow novel.
3.0 out of 5 stars Why should I care?,
This book was probably the most hit-and-miss I have ever read. I really enjoyed the stream of consciousness internal monologues by the main character, and after having read this and other books by Bellow, I've decided Bellow is the most original thinker of 20th century English language writers, capable of the most profundity. However, this book had little to hold it up in between these moments. The plot was weak, the characters varied from interesting(the protagonist, most of the time) to obnoxious(his daughter and the Hindu doctor).
Other reviewers have made the claim that looking for solely plot is superficial, and while I agree somewhat(but I also think this is their elitist way of intimidating those who didn't like the book into feeling uneducated and stupid), I agree only in the sense that great fiction should ideally have more than simple plot. But this book has almost no plot, nothing more than contrived situations in order to house the author's intelligent postulates. This is fiction, and story is what makes fiction thrum. If Bellow really wanted a context in which to pose these ideas, he should have just released a collection of essays, possibly interrupted with anecdotal short stories and brief allegories(I get that feeling reading most of his work.)
5.0 out of 5 stars European History in New York and on the Moon, i.e. BELLOW!,
There is never just one conversation or story in a novel by Saul Bellow, but Mr. Sammler's lifespan and intellectual range make this novel particularly dense. Did I say dense? I meant light- oh, you know. What we have here is social commentary, classical philosophy, global history and sex in the city. At one level, that is.
Mr. Sammler lost an eye in the Holocaust, but he appears to be the only one in New York City in the '60's, with the exception of the black pickpocket, who is of the sighted world. He is a gentle, quiet man, that is, if one is not, as we are, hearing his thoughts as we do. (Consistent with all Bellow's novels) Mr. Sammler must watch as no one else, it seems the disfiguring effects of the assimilation process upon his family. In turn, his daughter Shula becomes a crazy bag lady, Dadist, Zionist and sometime Christian. His niece a sex addict, is described as a "sensual woman without remission." There is the orthodox cousin who is the doctor and the source of all the financial security, his son, however is the antithetical and also incomplete gambler. There are times when Sammler looks at the moon and thinks longingly of little tents there.
It is, in a sense, the sixties. But it is also the England of Wells and Orwell, it is Jerusalem with the Knights Templar. The Sinai desert and in Algeria, where De Gaulle is termed the 'neo-Charlagmagne.' We are gloriously jettisoned through literature, philosophy, (in this volume a fair amount of Keirkegaard,) and with all nods to Wells, we are time travellers, from Brest Litvosk to Kresge's.
Artur Sammler grew up in Britain in an educated and somewhat elevated Jewish familiy. His mother gave him a copy of a Schopenhauer with the comment that he called the Jews optimists. Bellow responds, "living near the crater of Vesuvious, I guess Jews need to be optimists."
Do I ever get all of Bellow? Certainly not, but that does not dilute the pleasure one bit. This indictment of the sixties seems in some ways, more dated than novels of his that are even older. But that is likely a result of my own selective amnesia for the era, which Bellow excoriates boldly, and if I remember correctly, was vilified for. "Hoo boy!" I've read this book three times and will read it again, I am sure. Each time, I underline new things. Here are some of the latest; "Is God the gossip of the boring?" Speaking of Sammler, aka Bellow, we are told, it is true, he is a "cheerful maniac."
4.0 out of 5 stars bellow is the best,
By A Customer
another brilliant book from mr. bellow.
5.0 out of 5 stars Daunting but daedal writing-The Intense Saul Bellow,
Judging from the lengthy screeds many readers have levelled at other Bellow books such as Henderson the Rain King and Humboldt's Gift, I surmised (even though I, in fact, read and savored the book a year ago, and this should have been a foregone conclusion) that there are certainly worse gateways to Bellow's rarefied noodlings than Mr. Sammler's Planet. The pronouncements of a few of the readers of this worthy book might say something else. But they don't.
This being, for the moment, the only Bellow book I've read, I will probably take to stockpiling Bellow paperbacks. I will admit that there are dry spells in a work otherwise sodden with splendid revelations of the labors and misfortunes of the characters; but these dry stretches seem to accent the many nimble plot thrusts and ingenious banter (especially between Artur Sammler and Dr. Govinda Lal, whose tome on possible colonization of the moon figures prominently in the novel.)
Prolix reviews, like prolix novels, must stop meandering at some point and hit the nerve. Here we go: Bellow is a master of baroque modernism: The novel is as intricate as a Balinese mask, and yet few if any details of moment are lost; all remain fixed in mind, at least until the next spate of characters and scenarioes from, say, a Faulkner novel make inroads on memory. The humor is plentiful (The pipe bursting vignette I found especially pleasing). But the most intriguing asset to this novel's credit is the indomitable, inscrutable Artur Sammler, pliant and compassionate, with an everlasting faith in the tenets of old, yet flexible enough to grace wayward youth with something more important than reprimands, or even compassion: Unobtrusive Wisdom. A fantastic book; a true touchstone for both vocabulary and philosophy.
5.0 out of 5 stars The view from a survivor,
Mr. Sammler is a Polish Jew who escaped death at the hands of the Nazis at the cost of sight in one eye.
He is a survivor. He now lives in New York City in the 1960's, supported by his nephew who is but a few years younger.
Sammler, a intellectual with that gentlemanly old world manner, is now trying to come to terms with the culture he sees in NYC at the time, including how most of relatives have taken to it, the Holocaust and WWII in general. And, what the meaning of being a survivor is, both for himself and for the world he now finds himself in.
But just as his physical vision, thanks to the Nazis, is but half and distorted, so is his sight and vision into his soul. (Anyway, that's my metaphorical take on the bad eye.) He is emotionally removed.
As for Bellow's writing, it was great! This was my first Bellow book and I read it only because friends I highly respect so recommended him. I was flabbergasted that the writing was so good. Not at all heavy but yet trenchant in content and to the point. The scene where Sammler gives his talk is classic. His inability to understand the 60's culture and those in it, including his relations, yet having to deal with them, is often simultaneously riotous and deadly serious.
It's easy to see why this book won the National Book Award.
Note: Kosinski's _The Painted Bird_ has a complementary and sometimes similar subject matter. Imo, each books adds greater depth and meaning to the other.
3.0 out of 5 stars I Was a Little Lost on Mr. Sammler's Planet,
I'm an avid reader, but I admit to being a little lost while reading Bellow's Mr. Sammler's Planet. Overall, I liked the book. I could feel the tension and chaos of the late 1960's in the story. But the story moved along at an excruciatingly tedious pace, laced with just enough bursts of clarity to keep me going until the end.
The extremely long passages of exposition and long-winded monologues became difficult to manage after awhile. But I persevered because I knew that just beneath all of that lay a good story. Although the story is very dated in many areas, I was able to glean enough universal elements that made the book relevant for me in the year 2000. I'm sure the more scholarly readers out there would say that I missed the whole point and many important themes. But I say that each reader takes away from a book what is important to him or her--nothing more, nothing less--and what I gained from the book was worth plowing through it.
I found Bellow's character description to be clear and crisp, if not overly defined. The quirks and personalities he gave to the more defined characters proved interesting throughout. However, I was a little distracted by Bellow's continual references to how the women characters smelled (usually bad in this book).
This was my first experience with Bellow but not my last.
Also, I thought the New York setting was a plus.
5.0 out of 5 stars deep and fascinating,
By A Customer
This review is to refute some of the negative customer reviews. Anyone who is reading only for plot is reading on a very superficial level. I had never read Bellow and didnt know what to expect. After a few pages, I wasnt sure I wanted to continue, but I'm glad I did. I felt this book was, among other things, like opening a time capsule from the late 1960s. I did not at all feel the author was preaching his own views or that the characters were not developed. The author delves deep into the mind of a well-educated man who is a Holocaust survivor, living in New York when the city was decidedly at a low point and confronted with hippie-era social and political attitudes. I don't know if this story is autobiographical, but it is not plotless, dull or stupid. I urge potential readers to ignore those comments.
2.0 out of 5 stars Mr. Bellow's Philosophy Masquerading as a Novel,
By A Customer
This was my second attempt at Bellow. I started with the very short and enjoyable "Seize the Day" and jumped into this. I have always been intimidated by Bellow and, if anything, this book proved that my fears were well-founded. Certainly, the long philosophical ramblings were not easy reading and I will admit that I didn't always follow them.
But that's not what bothered me about the book. What bothered me was that the philosophical theories quite clearly belonged to Mr. Bellow and not Mr. Sammler. I understand that novels are essentially ways for the author to deliver his theories on a number of subjects. But character development is essential. You have to understand and know the character to decide whether to trust what the character is thinking and saying. But as you get deeper into some of these philosophical tangents, Mr. Sammler disappears and only Saul Bellow is left. Maybe Saul should have written a long essay rather than a novel that goes nowhere.
And nowhere is exactly where the story goes. Bellow hangs his philosophical treatise on a handful of one-dimensional characters and a plot about a stolen manuscript that seems more appropriate for an episode of "Frasier."
"Mr. Sammler's Planet" won the National Book Award and I have to think that sometimes voters for such awards are awed by a writer's reputation or by a thick wall of language that they respect but don't really understand. And all the while, they seem to forget that the purpose of a novel is to tell a story while giving insight into human nature along the way. What Bellow does here, and what he won awards for, is quite the opposite: He creates minimal characters and moves them around just enough to be able to pound home his views and theories.
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Mr. Sammler's Planet by Saul Bellow (Paperback - Sept. 26 1984)
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