The Adventures of Augie March by Saul Bellow
The Adventures of Augie March is Bellow’s third novel, published in 1953, and which won him the 1954 National Book Award. Bellow was born in Canada to Russian immigrants and moved with his family to Humboldt Park in Chicago where he, as well as his character Augie March, grew up. Bellow has been the recipient of a number of prestigious literature prizes including the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1976, The Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1976 for Humboldt’s Gift, and he has won the National Book Award three times; in 1954 for Augie, in 1965 for Herzog, and 1971 for Mr Sammler’s Planet.
Martin Amis described Bellow as “the greatest American author ever, in my view” in a talk with Robert Birnbaum. He went on to say; “His sentences seem to weigh more than anyone else’s. He is like a force of nature… He breaks all the rules […] [T]he people in Bellow’s fiction are real people, yet the intensity of the gaze that he bathes them in, somehow through the particular, opens up into the universal.”
The Adventures of Augie March is literally a story of one man’s adventure through life in search of meaning and self. On GoodReads the novel is described as a modern picaresque tale that…
“…grandly illustrates twentieth-century man’s restless pursuit of an elusive meaning. Augie March, a young man growing up in Chicago during the Great Depression, doesn’t understand success on other people’s terms. Fleeing to Mexico in search of something to fill his restless soul and soothe his hunger for adventure, Augie latches on to a wild succession of occupations until his journey brings him full circle. Yet beneath Augie’s carefree nature lies a reflective person with a strong sense of responsibility to both himself and others, who in the end achieves a success of his own making. A modern-day Columbus, Augie March is a man searching not for land but for self and soul and, ultimately, for his place in the world.”
The novel is filled with wonderful fleshy characters that all seem very interesting as described in this excerpt from Joan Acocella’s New Yorker article; Finding Augie March:
“Augie’s family consists of Mrs. March and her three sons. Augie is the middle child, an aimless, happy boy, who is maybe eight or ten years old when we meet him. There used to be a father, who drove a laundry truck, but he disappeared. In his place, the family has Grandma Lausch. Actually, she is not their grandmother; she is a boarder. Nevertheless, she runs the household. She comes from Odessa, where, she explains, she was married to a fine gentleman and her sons had German nannies. She still has her silk gown, her fur piece, her ostrich feathers. Now she sits in a shabby kitchen in Chicago, explaining to the feckless Marches how to chisel the city’s welfare system. Thus does history enter the novel: Europe, immigration, the pain of immigration. (Bellow’s mother also came from Russia with ostrich feathers in her trunk.) But Grandma Lausch is undiscourageable. She is a tsar, a Machiavel, full of force and pride and guile. When she’s finished bossing Mrs. March and the boys around, she summons Mr. Kreindl, a neighbor, for klabyasch, an old-country card game, which she plays with “sharp gold in her eyes.” She is the first great personage in a book that carries on for six hundred pages without producing a single dull character. Even the animals have interesting personalities.”
“If there’s a candidate for the Great American Novel, I think this is it.” – Salman Rushdie.
Have you read this novel? I’d love to hear what you thought of it.