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Ravelstein
Saul Bellow
publisher: Querido, Amsterdam, 2000



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Abe Ravelstein is a capacious, vibrant, larger-than-life character; a teacher who insists that the ideas of Plato, Aristotle, and Nietzsche are vitally important to his students' lives; a philosopher who is committed to saving human dignity from encroaching 'boobism'; and at the same time a man who luxuriates in all the sensual pleasures life has to offer, from Armani suits to the finest French hotels. When his friend Chick suggests he turn one of his popular courses into a book, no one would have foreseen that it would become an international bestseller and vault its author into a worldwide, and often controversial, spotlight. As Chick notes, 'It's no small matter to become rich and famous by saying exactly what you think - to say it in your own words, without compromise.' The wealth such success brings allows Ravelstein to indulge his extravagant tastes, but as his health begins to fail and he senses death from AIDS approaching, he turns to Chick and requests that he write a memoir of his life.

Six years pass before Chick is
able to begin a book that turns out to be not a memoir but a novel and not simply Ravelstein's life story but a complex and interconnected portrait of their friendship, the profound impact it has had on him, and Chick's confrontation with his own mortality. Approaching his subject in a 'piecemeal' way - through anecdotes, flashbacks, poignant vignettes, reported conversations - Chick attempts not to provide an account of Ravelstein's ideas but of his personal life, to make himself 'responsible for the person...' What emerges is the story of a remarkable friendship, both intellectually challenging and emotionally intense, between two men who share their deepest secrets and who discuss everything from Vaudeville routines, Chick's wives, and French cuisine to Ravelstein's Socratic view of love, and the Holocaust and its legacy for the twentieth century. In the process, we see Ravelstein eating, drinking, and holding forth, playing matchmaker with his students, visiting heads of states, poking holes in Chick's political naiveté, and generally reveling in both the life of the mind and of the body.

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BOOKS BY SAUL BELLOW:

Henderson the Rain King
1959
Henderson has come to Africa on a spiritual safari, a quest for 'the truth.' His feats of strength, his passion for life, and, most importantly, his inadvertant 'success' in bringing rain have made him a god-like figure among the tribes.
SAUL BELLOW'S BOOKSHELF

Madame Bovary: Patterns of Provincial Life
Gustave Flaubert, 1857
Hopeless romantic commits adultery, in vain attempt to escape her dull marriage and Norman bourgeoisie.

Notes from the Underground
Fyodor M. Dostoyevsky, 1866
Nihilist denounces the decay of the modern world.

The Trial
Franz Kafka, 1925P
Accused man goes in search of his judges and his crime.

Nausea
Jean-Paul Sartre, 1938
Historian in the provinces is disgusted by the bourgeoisie.



The Outsider
Albert Camus, 1942
An indifferent French Algerian shoots a man and then refuses to oppose his sentence.



Sister Carrie
Theodore Dreiser, 1900
Working-class girl uses sex appeal to climb the ladder and plunges her lover in disgrace.



Gimpel the Fool, and other stories
Isaac Bashevis Singer, 1956
In 1952, Bellow translated the story 'Gimpel the Fool' from the original Yiddish into English.

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
Mark Twain, 1884-1885
Humorous, picaresque novel - in dialect - about a boy who travels down the Mississippi on a raft with a runaway slave.

Ulysses
James Joyce, 1922
The ultimate modernist 'urban novel', where streams of consciousness flow freely: a day in the life of a Jewish advertising salesman in Dublin, 1904.

His Collected Stories
Anton Chekhov, 1880-1885
There are many - we'll try and list the various available collections separately. Stay tuned!

Herzog
1964
An intellectual-in-crisis evaluates his past and writes frantic letters (which he never mails) about the state of the world.
WHAT TO READ AFTER HERZOG?

AMONG JEWISH INTELLECTUALS
The Professor of Desire
Philip Roth, 1977
Literature professor in crisis pursues his Jewish roots.

Dubin's Lives
Bernard Malamud, 1979
Young woman turns the life of a biographer upside-down.

[Zionoco]
Leon de Winter, 1995
New York rabbi with midlife crisis grapples with (his) morals.

CERTIFIABLE
Zeno's Conscience
Italo Svevo, 1923
Neurotic businessman analyzes his life and non-well-being.

Blue Mondays
Arnon Grunberg, 1994
Problematic love life of a Jewish teenager in Amsterdam.

Barney's Version
Mordecai Richler, 1997
Memoirs of the profligate (fictional) television producer Barney Panofsky.

DROWNING IN POPULAR CULTURE
The Fall
Albert Camus, 1956
Monologue in which a lawyer confronts his own hypocrisy.

Surfacing
Margaret Atwood, 1972
Feminist classic about the salutary influence of the Canadian wilderness.

Money: a suicide note
Martin Amis, 1984
John Self (!) descends into the Hell of consumerist New York.

Among the Dead
Michael Tolkin, 1992
Crime and punishment of a young widower.

HUMANISM WITH A WARM HEART
A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius
Dave Eggers, 2000
Postmodern orphan's tale: Dave Egger's parents died from cancer within a month of each other when he was 21 and his brother, Christopher, was seven. They left the Chicago suburb where they had grown up and moved to San Francisco. This book tells the story of their life together.

The Corrections
Jonathan Franzen, 2001
A suburban family falls apart and is chastened.

Dangling Man
1944
Take a man waiting - waiting between the two worlds of civilian life and the army, suspended between two identities - and you have a man who, perhaps for the first time in his life, is really free. However, freedom can be a noose around a man's neck.
The Adventures of Augie March
1953
Fictional autobiography of a rumbustious adventurer and poker-player who sets off from his native Chicago in the spirit of a latter-day Columbus to rediscover the world - and more - especially, 20th century America.
Seize the Day
1956
New York novel about a man with an impossible father and a wasted life.
Mr Sammler's Planet
1970
Mr. Artur Sammler, Holocaust survivor, intellectual, and occasional lecturer at Columbia University in 1960s New York City, is a 'registrar of madness,' a refined and civilized being caught among people crazy with the promises of the future.
Humboldt's Gift
1975
A chronicle of success and failure, this work is Bellow's tale of the writer's life in America. When Humboldt dies a failure in a seedy New York hotel, Charlie Citrine, coping with the tribulations of his own success, begins to realize the significance of his own life.
Ravelstein
2000
The friendship between a writer and a rich, flamboyant intellectual.
The Dean's December
1982
Alternating between Chicago and Bucharest, Bellow's novel tells the story of a college dean who witnesses unrest and corruption at home and abroad, first within the political community of Chicago, then under the oppressive communist rule of Romania.
The Victim
1947
Leventhal is a natural victim; a man uncertain of himself, never free from the nagging suspicion that the other guy may be right. So when he meets a down-at-heel stranger in the park one day and finds himself being accused of ruining the man's life, he half believes it.
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editor-in-chief: Stacey Knecht, info@the-ledge.com
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