Page 26 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 35

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16
JEWISH BOOK ANNUAL
EVALUATIONS OF HIS JEWISHNESS
In view of Bellow’s insistence that he is an American w riter who
is a Jew, it is ironic that when Bellow was awarded the Nobel
Prize, John Leonard, cultural correspondent for the New York
Times, emphasized the Jewishness of Bellow. The headline, in ­
deed, read: NOVELIST DEALS W ITH JEWS IN AMERICA.
In the course of his observation, Leonard said, “If Saul Bellow
didn’t exist, someone exactly like him would have had to have
been invented, just after the Second W o rld War, by New York
intellectuals in a back room at Partisan Review. Everybody wrote
essays and book reviews, but a novelist was needed, a very spe­
cial sort of novelist, a highbrow with muscles, to tell the story
of the Jewish romance with America. Nathanael West was dead,
Henry Roth was silent, Daniel Fuchs did screenplays, Irw in Shaw
and Herman Wouk were middlebrows, short stories by Delmore
Schwartz and Isaac Rosenfeld were not enough, and Norman
Mailer was clearly not to be trusted.”
This left Saul Bellow, who fit the recipe concocted by Irving
Howe in describing (in World of Our Fathers) the qualities o f
the immigrant Jewish experience—“An eager restlessness, moral
anxiety, an openness to novelty, a hunger for dialectic, a refusal
o f contentment, an ironic criticism of all fixed opinions.”
Again, writing in the Times, Herbert Mitgang, in a feature
on Bellow as a Nobel Prize winner, reports o f Bellow that “he
underscores a point that has been frequently misunderstood in
this country: he is not an American Jewish w riter but an Amer­
ican w riter who is Jewish. His characters are universal men. The
point was made most clearly in the citation by the Swedish
Academy, which avoided mentioning his religion or that o f his
characters.”
Echoing this opinion, A lfred Kazin, in a New Repub lic ap­
preciation of Bellow, writes, “ . . . the only person capable of
inventing Saul Bellow [responding to John Leonard’s crack that
someone like Bellow would have to be invented] is Saul Bellow.
Indeed, he has invented and re-invented himself for book after
book. No wonder that Bellow feels that constantly labeling him
a ‘Jewish w riter’ is un fa ir to him ‘both at a w riter and as a
Jew ’.”
A t the same time, Kazin wrote earlier and elsewhere (.Bright