Book Review: Ravelstein by Saul Bellow

Ravelstein (Penguin Great Books of the 20th Century): Bellow, Saul ...

The first two parts of Ravelstein, a biographical novel, are mainly about the last and most important stage of Ravelstein’s life. He was terminally ill, but he fought against the disease until his death. The latter part is mainly about the narrator, Chick himself is on the verge of death due to food poisoning, but he has deep thoughts about life and death at this time. Ravelstein was born in a small city and had a very unhappy childhood. His father had been poor all his life and was a tyrant in the family. Ravelstein, who grew up in the shadow of his father, came into contact with society at an early age and went out on his own. After struggling hard for many years, he finally got rid of the poor people’s life being a famous university professor. He taught students from all walks of life, many of them in important positions, including students who played an important role in the Gulf War. He maintained close contact and frequent intercourse with them. Taking advice from his good friend Chick, he turned his teaching research into a best-selling book attacking the theory of relativity, the American education system, and its declining international status and influence, and became a guest of the president of the United States and the prime minister of Britain. From then on, he became a successful member of the upper class of the affluent society in the United States and lived a luxurious and decadent life. While he was enjoying a life of fame and fortune, he found himself terminally ill. Towards the end of his life, he asked Chick to write an autobiography for him.

Ravelstein is a charming and paradoxical Jewish intellectual. he embraced life with the indulgence and intoxication of Dionysus and the dream and aspiration of the god of the sun. He questioned the contemporary American social value and education system but highly praised the classical culture of ancient Greece and Rome and loved classical music. He fell in love with Armani suits, Cuban cigars, pure gold Montblanc gold pens, and so on. He was an advanced intellectual in American society, but his manner was vulgar. When attending various celebrity social occasions, he would often splash coffee or other drinks on expensive clothes and drink them directly from a coke bottle, which even made T.S. Eliot stunned. He is a conservative who does not worship the free market, but uses his talent to produce valuable goods and become rich overnight. He advocates aesthetic, free love, but has gay friends; he grew up trying to escape his Jewish father, the tyrannical king of his family, but in his life he played his father’s role to his students and friends. The unique historical background, social situation and ethnic characteristics of the Jewish people make Jewish writers in the American culture face embarrassment in their creation. Jews in America (especially the upper-class intelligentsia), reluctant to abandon their traditional religion and unable to resist the American way of life floundered in this confusion, searching for their identity with both desire and disappointment.

-Coreen C.

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