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The Victim (1947)

af Saul Bellow

MedlemmerAnmeldelserPopularitetGennemsnitlig vurderingOmtaler
8561524,806 (3.4)32
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, Leventhal is led by his own self-doubts and suspicions into a nightmare of paranoia and fear.… (mere)
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Engelsk (12)  Catalansk (1)  Spansk (1)  Græsk (1)  Alle sprog (15)
Viser 1-5 af 15 (næste | vis alle)
This is Bellow's second novel, so a very early work for him. Asa Leventhal is alone for the summer, his wife having gone to help her mother move. Walking through the neighborhood one evening, Asa is accosted by an old acquaintance, Kirby Albee, who is drunk. Kirby accuses Asa of having caused him to be fired from his job several years previously. Over the next six weeks or so Kirby becomes increasingly more aggressive in his attacks on Asa, many of which Asa interprets as anti-semitic.

While all this is going on, Asa must also help out with his absent brother's wife and her very ill son. He also is trying to figure out, contacting others from his past, whether he really had played any part in Kirby's being fired from his job.

In the introduction, the book is described as "a parable in the guise of a middle-European realist novel." At the time he was writing it, details of the Holocaust were just becoming known to the world. Bellow has said that the theme of the book is guilt and it is somewhat about anti-semitism. There is a definite play about the ambiguity over who is the victim--Asa or Kirby? In fact they victimize each other.

I found the style of writing very distancing from the characters. I could never work myself up to sympathize with any of the characters. The writing beautifully portrayed life in post-WW II New York City--the heat of the summer, the crowds, the grittiness, and I enjoyed reading about what life was like in the city then. But it was never a book that called to me because I was enjoying it so much or because I wanted to find out what was going to happen next. So, mildly recommended.

3 stars ( )
  arubabookwoman | Sep 15, 2023 |
a little flat ( )
  stravinsky | Dec 28, 2020 |
"Its bad to be less than human and it's bad to be more than human"

Says Shlossberg the oldest of a group of Jewish men who have been talking about the merits of current actresses (1947), but it could equally be applied to Asa Leventhal the hero of this story. Asa has come across this group of friends and acquaintances in a cafeteria and has gotten involved in the conversation while looking for an opportunity to "do something" for his unwelcome house guest Kirby Albee.

The novel is based in New York City it's hot and muggy and Asa Leventhal is alone in his apartment while his wife is visiting her parents in the South to help with a family problem. He works as a copy editor for a trade magazine: a job that he doesn't particularly like but is glad to have. The oppressive weather lies heavy on his big frame and his nerves come under pressure from two events with which throw him into turmoil. His bothers wife telephones, panicking about her sick child (his brother is away looking for work) and he is accosted by Kirby Albee in the street who bears him some sort of grudge. Asa is struggling a little without his wife and is now plunged into issues with which he is ill-equipped to solve, being a touchy individual who can rub people up the wrong way.

The centre of the story is his relationship with Kirby Albee an acquaintance from his past who blames Asa for an incident that led to the loss of his job and subsequently the loss of his wife. Albee has sunk low in the world, but is clever and manipulative and is now drinking heavily. His persistence causes Asa to question his role in the incident and when he seeks advice from a couple of his friends they also add doubt to Asa's own views that he was not to blame. One thing is clear Asa dislikes Albee and fears he is being used, but cannot shrug off a feeling that he may have behaved badly. Few people go through their lives certain that they have always acted for the best, most of us have worries that our actions have caused distress or worse to others and the Victim plays on those fears, what happens if an incident from the past rears up to threaten the future, what happens if we are held to account. The answer mostly is that things are not black or white, but the fear and anxiety caused by a recurring incident can destroy our well being and Asa in this novel is particularly vulnerable.

Asa knows that Albee is anti-Semitic from a previous argument, but now suspects that others that know him may also be suspicious of him, because he is a Jew. He cannot understand why they are not more sympathetic to his plight, similarly he believes he is not being helped by his Jewish circle of friends, there is talk of black lists and his paranoia threatens to tip him over the edge particularly when he is brow beaten into letting Albee stay in his apartment. Bellow is particularly good at creating a hot-house atmosphere that swirls claustrophobically around Asa and his descriptions of an overheated New York City bear down on his unfortunate central character.

The relationship between Asa and Albee crackles with tension and often leads to verbal and physical violence. Asa's sense of family duty, where he does not always understand the undercurrents that make up relationships can make him seem unsympathetic at times, but he is a man who does his best while trying to keep several balls in the air at the same time. Bellow's dialogue is tough and gritty. without resorting to wisecracks or the language of the street. A chapter where the Jewish circle of friends discuss the merits of various showgirls with the knowledge of impresarios is a tour de force and when a joke is made as they are planning to leave the cafeteria, it is Leventhal who thinks it is aimed at him. Bellow ends the chapter with an arresting image of the friends going up to pay:

'The musical crash of the check machine filled their ears as they waited their turn at the cashier's dazzling cage'

Business in New York City just after the second world war, called for men to work hard and sweat to keep their jobs and there were casualties. Knowing how to bend with the boss was how many people kept their head above water, Leventhal struggles with this concept his natural pride and idea of how he should be doing things gets in his way and setbacks lead to a certain amount of paranoia. Bellow captures this strikingly. This is an absorbing read, encapsulating a time and a place to great effect. 4 stars. ( )
2 stem baswood | Apr 30, 2020 |
1947. Asa Leventhal lives on Irving Place with his wife and works as an editor of a trade magazine. His wife is visiting her mother and it's a very hot summer. Asa goes to the park and runs into someone he vaguely knows, who starts accusing him of intentionally ruining his life. Asa's self-doubt and paranoia allow him to be drawn into this grifter's tissue of lies and manipulation. Wasn't sure if Asa was the victim or if the other guy was ultimately. Beautiful scenes of New York and the Staten Island Ferry. ( )
  kylekatz | Feb 29, 2020 |
Yet another literary plot which would've been nullified by the existence of air conditioning.

Bellow's muscular rpose was as strident as ever. My wife read this a few years ago and pointed out how Edward Albee's Zoo Story has a similar plot device: oh, the antagonist is also named Allbee in Bellow's novel. ( )
  jonfaith | Feb 22, 2019 |
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It is related, O auspicious King, that there was a merchant of the merchants that had much wealth, and business in various cities. Now on a day he mounted horse and went forth to recover monies in certain towns, and the heat oppressed him; so he sat beneath a tree and, putting his hand into his saddle-bags, he took thence some broken bread and dried dates and began to break fast. When he had ended eating the dates he threw away the stones with force and lo! an Ifrit appeared, huge of stature and brandishing a drawn sword, wherewith he approached the merchant and said, "Stand up that I may slay thee even as thou slewest my son!" Asked the merchant, "How have I slain thy son?" and he answered, " When thou atest dates and threwest away the stones they struck my son full in the breast as he was walking by, so that he died forthwith."


"The Tale of the Trader and the Jinni"
from Thousand and One Nights
Be that as it may, now it was that upon the rocking waters of the ocean the human face began to reveal itself; the sea appeared paved with innumerable faces, upturned to the heavens; faces, imploring, wrathful, despairing;faces that surged upward by thousands, by myriads, by generations...

De Quincey, The Pains of Opium

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To my friend Paolo Milano
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On some nights New York is as hot as Bangkok.
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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, Leventhal is led by his own self-doubts and suspicions into a nightmare of paranoia and fear.

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