The Actual: A Novella

The Actual: A Novella


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“The work of a great master still locked in unequal combat with Eros and Time.” –The New York Times Book Review

A Penguin Classic

In this dazzling work of fiction, Nobel Laureate Saul Bellow writes comically and wisely about the tenacious claims of first love. Harry Trellman, an aging, astute businessman, has never belonged anywhere and is as awkward in his human attachments as he is gifted in observing the people around him. But Harry's observational talents have not gone unnoticed by "trillionaire" Sigmund Adletsky, who retains Harry as his advisor. Soon the old man discovers Harry's intense forty-year passion for a twice-divorced interior designer, Amy Wustrin. At the exhumation and reburial of her husband, Harry is provided, thanks to Sigmund, perhaps the final means for disclosing feelings amassed over a lifetime. Written late in Bellow's career, The Actual is a maestro's dissection of the affairs of the heart.

This Penguin Classics edition contains an introduction by Joseph O'Neill.

For more than seventy years, Penguin has been the leading publisher of classic literature in the English-speaking world. With more than 1,700 titles, Penguin Classics represents a global bookshelf of the best works throughout history and across genres and disciplines. Readers trust the series to provide authoritative texts enhanced by introductions and notes by distinguished scholars and contemporary authors, as well as up-to-date translations by award-winning translators.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780143105848
Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date: 11/24/2009
Series: Penguin Classics
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 96
Sales rank: 1,198,998
Product dimensions: 5.10(w) x 7.50(h) x 0.40(d)
Age Range: 18 Years

About the Author

Saul Bellow was praised for his vision, his ear for detail, his humor, and the masterful artistry of his prose. Born of Russian Jewish parents in Lachine, Quebec in 1915, he was raised in Chicago. He received his Bachelor's degree from Northwestern University in 1937, with honors in sociology and anthropology, and did graduate work at the University of Wisconsin. During the Second World War he served in the Merchant Marines.

His first two novels, Dangling Man (1944) and The Victim (1947) are penetrating, Kafka-like psychological studies. In 1948 he was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship and spent two years in Paris and traveling in Europe, where he began his picaresque novel The Adventures of Augie March, which went on to win the National Book Award for fiction in 1954. His later books of fiction include Seize the Day (1956); Henderson the Rain King (1959); Mosby's Memoirs and Other Stories (1968); Mr. Sammler's Planet (1970); Humboldt's Gift (1975), which won the Pulitzer Prize; The Dean's December (1982); More Die of Heartbreak (1987); Theft (1988); The Bellarosa Connection (1989);The Actual (1996); Ravelstein (2000); and, most recently, Collected Stories(2001). Bellow has also produced a prolific amount of non-fiction, collected in To Jerusalem and Back, a personal and literary record of his sojourn in Israel during several months in 1975, and It All Adds Up, a collection of memoirs and essays.

Bellow's many awards include the International Literary Prize for Herzog, for which he became the first American to receive the prize; the Croix de Chevalier des Arts et Lettres, the highest literary distinction awarded by France to non-citizens; the B'nai B'rith Jewish Heritage Award for "excellence in Jewish Literature"; and America's Democratic Legacy Award of the Anti-Defamation League of B'nai B'rith, the first time this award has been made to a literary personage. In 1976 Bellow was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature "for the human understanding and subtle analysis of contemporary culture that are combined in his work."

Date of Birth:

June 10, 1915

Date of Death:

April 5, 2005

Place of Birth:

Lachine, Quebec, Canada

Place of Death:

Brookline, Massachusetts


University of Chicago, 1933-35; B.S., Northwestern University, 1937

What People are Saying About This

From the Publisher

"A mature distillation of Mr. Bellow's work . . . a gem."
-The New York Times

" The work of a great master still locked in unequal combat with Eros and Time."
-The New York Times Book Review

" [A] wonderful book . . . fully worthy of a place in its author's vastly esteemed oeuvre."
-Chicago Tribune

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The Actual: A Novella 4.3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 3 reviews.
tjsjohanna on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
As a reading experience, this one was mixed. The writing was good - interesting and thought-provoking. As a story it was odd - past and present intermixed with no clear, discernible point - and I didn't care for the characters much. I did like the idea of the individual as something unique and not able to be duplicated.
joririchardson on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
"The Actual" is the story of Harry Trellman, a man who has never felt quite right about where he is in life. Never having found any place where he belongs, and never having made an effort to win the love of his life, he reaches a turning point only very late in life. An aging billionaire, Sigmund Adletsky, hires Harry for his "brain," as Harry has an excellent memory and seems to have an odd talent for remembering and knowing everything. His high-school sweetheart, Amy, is also re-emerging in his life, after decades of his dreaming and idolizing of her.This short book was very well written, and had such a strong literary feel to it, which I loved.Harry was an interesting character, even if he did seem a bit secretive and hard to figure out. I am convinced that he was a genius, and it seems that at times, he has no idea, while others, he is arrogant about his intellect. Amy views Harry as above her mentally, and reminisces about feeling a sense of inadequacy when they were together in high school.Amy Wustrin, Harry's love interest, was well written in how normal she was. An average looking woman who has been married and divorced twice, with no quirks or eccentricities written into her character. Her late ex-husband, Jay Wustrin, never actually appeared in the story, as he had already died by the time it started. However, he is very much present, and would have to be my favorite character. A trickster and a playful trouble-maker, while he was alive he was forever causing mischief with the ones he loved, and was also quite the ladie's man. He divorced Amy a little while before he died, but it seems that they remained friends. He arranged with Amy's mentally unstable father to buy his grave from him, so that Jay would be resting beside Amy's mother (who hated him). Knowing that a few years down the line, the grave would be needed for its rightful owner, he also knew that he would have to be exhumed and re-buried. Such trouble he was causing, even from the grave! The exhumation was solemn, with a touch of comedy, as everyone remembers what a trickster Jay was. No one seems to doubt for a minute that he did all this purposefully. Harry's enduring fascination with Amy was also a very vivid portrayal. Every day of his life, he thinks of her, but as he only ever knew her in high school, that is how he still imagines Amy to look. One day, he happens to pass her on the street. She recognizes him, though he would have simply walked by. Amy stops him and, upon realizing that her highschool boyfriend has no idea who she is, she is outraged, feeling that at last her beauty has officially faded.True, Amy is no longer the beauty that Harry remembers so well, but after re-adjusting the image of her in his mind's eye, he still sees her as desirable, beautiful, and as the woman he has always loved.Their heartfelt talk in the graveyard was interesting, genuine without being dramatic. Harry tells the reader that every other woman he has ever known seemed to be an apparition, with Amy being the only actual woman. Thus, she is his "Actual."I left this book feeling a bit sad. Harry could have gone so far and had everything he ever wanted, but it is only very late in life that he begins to see this, or do anything about it.A very good, quick read.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
First love digs deep "But Amy was well aware that I turned to her continually and all my efforts to detach myself from her had failed completely. She understood what first love can do. It strikes you at seventeen and, like infantile paralysis, though it works through the heart, not the spinal cord, it, too, can be crippling." As always with Bellow, this novella has very little plot, but the characters, ideas, and especially the prose more than make up for that. A strongly emotional story with a perfect, if ambiguous, ending. To be savored.