"The best novel to come out of America—or England—for a generation." —V.S. Pritchett, The New York Review of Books
A Penguin Classic
In this unique noir masterpiece by the incomparable Saul Bellow, a young man is sucked into the mysterious, heat-filled vortex of New York City. Asa Leventhal, a temporary bachelor with his wife away on a visit to her mother, attempts to find relief from a Gotham heat wave, only to be accosted in the park by a down-at-the-heels stranger who accuses Leventhal of ruining his life. Unable to shake the stranger loose, Leventhal is led by his own self-doubts and suspicions into a nightmare of paranoia and fear.
This Penguin Classics edition features an introduction by National Book Award winner Norman Rush.
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.
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
Education:University of Chicago, 1933-35; B.S., Northwestern University, 1937
What People are Saying About This
“A kind of Dostoyevskian nightmare…written with unusual power and insight.” –The New York Times
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
The Victim by Saul Bellow is the story of Asa Leventhal, left on his own by his wife who is visiting family out of town. Leventhal is at loose ends until he bumps into a former acquaintance Kirby Allbee whom he does not recognize at first. Allbee is down on his luck, drinking suspects Leventhal who is unsympathetic. Allbee confronts Leventhal, blames him for his ill fortune because he once got Leventhal a job interview only to find out that Leventhal insulted his boss rather publicly. Allbee was fired soon-after and still holds Leventhal to blame for what followed; Allbee lost his wife and has not been able to find a decent job since. He is at the end of his money with on where to turn.So he latches on to Leventhal. Leventhal feels guilty for what has happened, or rather he feels that others may have a low opinion of him because of it, and that if he can help Allbee their opinion of him may improve. Leventhal is continually motivated not by what he thinks is right but by what he believes others will think of him. Allbee soon becomes the guest who wouldn't leave, showing up at all hours, asking for increasingly intrusive favors from Leventhal, eventually moving into his apartment. Allbee is never grateful for Leventhall's help, he continues to blame him and to suggest that there is a Jewish conspiracy against him. How long Leventhall will put up with Allbee and how far Allbee will go are what make up the conflict of The Victim.Just who is the victim here Allbee or Leventhal? At what point do their roles reverse? This is an interesting conflict up to a point. I soon found myself having a very hard time with Leventhal and with the book itself. It is a bit of a period piece, and one supposes people may have willingly let near strangers move into their New York apartments in 1947, but who would put up with a "charity case" that insults their race openly? 1947 was a different time, true, maybe people were used to that sort of thing then, but I would have kicked Allbee to the curb by page 150, while Leventhal does not stand up to him until 100 pages later.The Victim is very well written, this is my first exposure to Saul Bellow--I think I'll be back for more, and it is an interesting window into the Jewish community of the 1940's. But I found the novel frustrating and surprisingly difficult going much of the time. So I'm giving it only three out of five stars.
The 1950s for Saul Bellow were glorious years in terms of creativity: in a relatively short time, he produced the sprawling The Adventures of Augie March followed by the compact masterpiece Seize the Day. The 40s for Bellow though were ruminant years, where his work took on a seriousness and solemnity that was shucked off later when he developed his big city pace and conversational writing style. The Victim, along with The Dangling Man, was a product of the 40s. Very early on, anyone who has read a sufficient amount of Bellow will notice a difference in the style. For one thing, it describes people walking from point a to point b. In his later books, he'd jump around forward and backwards in time, but rarely dwell on the staging of his scenes. Here, he's very concerned about how his protagonist gets across town and so on. The story centers on Asa Leventhal, a middle-class trade journal editor who tries his best to keep a stiff upper lip and rarely experiences the highs and lows that Bellow's later creation Augie March does. In one of the early chapters, it is described how close Leventhal came to pursuing a career in civil services, then is thankful he bowed out of it. The novel packs a bizarre fate for Leventhal though, as a walking civil-service case ends up showing up at his door, and everywhere else for that matter. The man's name is Kirby Allbee, and he believes Leventhal is responsible for him losing his job several years ago. Allbee attributes much of the recent hardships he's faced to this loss, and demands some sort of reckoning or remuneration from Leventhal. What makes matters worse is that Allbee is an unflagging anti-semite and Leventhal is Jewish. That's the premise of the book, and I won't give more of the plot away. The theme of The Victim deals, on one level, with anti-semitism, but on another with racism as a whole. It takes the uncommon road though and explores the way in which it's sometimes the victims' attitudes that exacerbate the racial divide. Plainly, Leventhal is the victim of Allbee's anti-semitism, but on another, Allbee is the victim of the victim, as Leventhal so frequently treats Allbee with disgust without pausing to empathize with him. There's no validity to racism, but sometimes we have to make allowances to the confused. So if you're looking for a serious book that's quite depressing but ultimately enlightening, check out The Victim.
The story of Asa Leventhal and Kirby Alley is one I have returned to many times over the years. The writing is spare, the dialogue pitch perfect, and the situations beautifully realized. I sympathize with Asa and his unwillingess to be held accountable for Kirby's failures, although Kirby is not without appeal of his own. If you are only familiar with the Bellow of 'Herzog' or 'Henderson the Rain King' or 'Humboldt's Gift,' this novel will come as something of a revelation. Much closer in tone and spirit to the equally spare and great 'Seize the Day.'