Page 30 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 35

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JEWISH BOOK ANNUAL
Through Bellow makes no reference to Franz Kafka in this
novella, one is reminded of Kafka’s poignant “Letter to His Fa­
ther,” in which the tubercular, sensitive failed clerk and w riter
is incapable of winning or earning the respect of the father who
means so much to him. Yet, as Irving Malin comments in an
essay on Bellow, “The surprising thing in Bellow’s fiction is that
he does not approach his Jewishness in any consistent way. Seize
the Day confronts it more than does The Adventures of Augie
March; it is his most forceful or most loving acceptance o f his
heritage.”
There is scarcely enough space here to go into detail about
The Adventures of Augie March, which was Bellow’s first major
mass and commercial success. There is a large literature on the
novels of Bellow and I commend these studies to the serious stu­
dent. Of necessity, these observations are restricted and limited
to Bellow as a Jewish writer and creator o f Jewish characters.
There are differing opinions regarding the Jewishness o f Augie
March, a long, picaresque novel about a Chicago Jew. It is con­
fusing that Leslie A. Fiedler is, almost simultaneously, o f two
minds on this work. In the Praire Schooner (Summer, 1957),
Fiedler calls Augie March “a strangely non-Jewish book,” but
in his valuable short study The Jew in the American Novel,
Fiedler declares, “It is because he manages to exact from the
most unpromising material the stubborn vision of lonely man
in a world which no longer provides his definition, that Saul
Bellow is able at last to create the most satisfactory character
ever projected by a Jewish w riter in America: Augie March.
W ith the book itself, shrill, repetitious, in spots hysterically eu­
phoric, I have certain quarrels; with Augie, none. He is an
image of man at once totally Jewish, the descendant o f the
shlemiels of Fuchs and Nathanael West, and absolutely Ameri­
can—the latest avatar of Huckleberry Finn.”
If one considers—and one must—the enormous fictional p ro j­
ect of Charles Angoff in his massive Polonsky saga, to select on ly
a single American Jewish writer, it is difficult to agree with
Fiedler about the profound Jewishness of Augie March. But
there has been a great deal of hyperbole surrounding the fiction
of Bellow and one becomes accustomed to such exaggeration.