Humboldt’s Gift is a ramble through the mind of Charlie Citrine, pejoratively described by friends and relatives as “an intellectual.”
Saul Bellow invites readers to tag along as Charlie revisits his past and explores his options for the future if a gift from an old friend allows him to be more than “a formidable mass of credentials.”
Charlie came east in 1952 to see Literature being made.
In New York, he met Von Humboldt Fleisher, a poet living on the fame of having published a book of highly acclaimed ballads at age 22.
Due in no small part to Humboldt, Charlie became a writer. But unlike Humboldt, Charlie made a fortune doing it.
When the novel opens, Humboldt has just died penniless.
Middle aged now, Charlie has a good life, aside from lawsuits by his ex-wife, trouble with the IRS, an expensive mistress, death threats by a mobster, and an inability to write.
He says he keeps “being overcome by the material, like a miner by gas fumes.”
As death loomed, Humboldt left Charlie a legacy.
Can it put Charlie’s life to rights?
You may wish you knew only half as many of Charlie’s thoughts as Bellow records for readers, but you won’t escape the odd feeling that you’ve known Charlie.
Humboldt’s Gift by Saul Bellow
Viking Press, 1975. 487 p.
1975 bestseller #10. My grade: B+
© 2018 Linda Gorton Aragoni