Page 25 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 35

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RIBALOW / SAUL BELLOW
15
Polly Ad ler made it in prostitution, as Two Gun Cohen, the
personal bodyguard of Sun Yat-Sen, made it in China. My joke
is not broad enough to cover the contempt I feel for the oppor­
tunists, wise guys and career types who impose such labels and
trade upon them.”
This is not to say that Bellow in any way rejects the notion
that he is a Jew. There is no hint of the self-hating Jew in his
psyche. One has only to read any o f the scores of interviews he
has granted, o r to mull the Jewish characters and themes of
his novels, or stories, or his reportage on Israel, to realize that
Bellow draws deeply from his Jewish background and gladly
says so.
In an interview in Show magazine (quoted in a long appre­
ciation of Bellow in Books and Bookmen, London, February,
1965, by Stephanie N ette ll) , Bellow said, “I have no fight about
being a Jew. I simply deal with the facts o f my life—a basic set
o f prim itive facts. They’re my given.”
Earlier, in the same interview, Bellow observed, “I was bom
into a medieval ghetto in French Canada. My childhood was in
ancient times which was true o f all orthodox Jews. Every child
was immersed in the Old Testament as soon as he could under­
stand anything, so that you began life by knowing Genesis in
Hebrew by heart at the age of four. You never got to distinguish
between that and the outer world. Later on there were transla­
tions: I grew up with four languages. English, Hebrew, Yiddish
and French. . .
In a Partisan Review interview (Writers at Work : Third Ser­
ies) , Bellow told Gordon Lloyd Harper, “It was made clear to
me when I studied literature in the university that as a Jew and
the son of Russian Jews I would probably never have the right
feeling for Anglo-Saxon traditions, for English words. I realized
even in college that the people who told me this were not neces­
sarily disinterested friends. But they had an effect on me, never­
theless. This was something from which I had to free myself. I
fought free because I had to.” It was Bellow’s translation from
the Yiddish of Isaac Bashevis Singer’s “Gimpel the Fool,” that
brought Singer to the attention o f the Partisan Review reader
and, as a consequence, to the academic or “intellectual” reader.