Former leading New Zealand publisher and bookseller, and widely experienced judge of both the Commonwealth Writers Prize and the Montana New Zealand Book Awards, talks about what he is currently reading, what impresses him and what doesn't, along with chat about the international English language book scene, and links to sites of interest to booklovers.
Sunday, June 30, 2013
A son's revealing insight into the man and the literary legend
June 29, 2013 - Sydney Morning Herald - Review By Leah Garrett
Left - Saul Bellow in 1997 at his office at Boston University, where he taught literature. Photo: AP
When the child of a famous author writes a memoir about growing up in their shadow, their own story needs to be compelling or the memoir can read either as hagiography or as a series of gripes about living too close to the sun.
A case in point was Margaret Salinger's Dream Catcher, which many critics panned as a mean-spirited attempt to draw an ugly portrait of a father whose work was much loved by the American public. (The case against her was strengthened when her brother offered a scathing public denial of both her memories and interpretation of events.)
Greg Bellow's Saul Bellow's Heart: A Son's Memoir is an attempt to avoid these pitfalls by approaching his late father's life in the manner of a psychology study. Greg was trained as a psychotherapist but he writes crisply with a refreshing honesty about both himself and his ever-changing and evolving relationship with his famous father.
Saul Bellow's Heart by Greg Bellow.
Saul Bellow was born Solomon Bellows in Lachine, Quebec, in 1915, two years after his Jewish parents had moved there from St Petersburg, Russia. At an early age his family moved again to Chicago. Bellow grew up in a multilingual family, excelled at school and displayed early literary genius. He capped a dazzling career in letters by winning the 1976 Nobel prize in literature.
After Saul Bellow's death in 2005, his fifth wife Janis, working with his literary agent at the powerful Andrew Wylie agency, sought to construct an idealised image of the man, and to some extent manipulated the use of his literary estate to do so by censoring his correspondence and restricting access to the Bellow archive.
In response to this, Greg Bellow says he wants to humanise "the complexity of all three aspects of Saul Bellow [the man, the father, the writer] and [this book] is my contribution to a franchise my father deserves."
Structured like a traditional biography, the memoir tells the story of Saul's life, beginning with an account of his grandparents' life in Russia, their journey across the Atlantic and illegal entrance to the US. Saul's early meteoric rise is recounted, and the story ends with his death and the damaging fallout from a lately revised will that left his entire literary estate to his fifth, much younger, wife.