Sunday, December 21, 2014

The Adventures of Augie March [1953]

The Adventures of Augie March, which won the National Book Awards in ’54 and has been qualified by Time and Modern Library as one of 100 greatest novels of 20th century, was the first great work of celebrated American writer and Nobel-laureate Saul Bellow. The ambitious book, which can be simultaneously described as witty, funny, sardonic, imaginative and enchanting, and had its inspirations in Twain's Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, is a quintessential example of the ‘Great American Novel’. The picaresque tale followed the adventurous, unpredictable and thoroughly fascinating journey over many years of its amoral eponymous protagonist Augie March – the largely unaffected manner through which he goes through life, the various odd jobs he indulges in, the array of seemingly far-fetched experiences he gathers over the years, and the myriad oddball characters he encounters in the process. Born into an impoverished Jewish family in Chicago during the 30s, Augie drifts through the Great Depression, WWII and post-War dash for easy money with a bleary-eyed sense of hope and optimism despite the poverty, corruption and disillusion surrounding him; he embraced but never succumbed to the bleak socio-political environs he grows up in. The brilliantly etched idiosyncratic characters that populate the novel, introduced at the average rate of one per chapter, made it all the more memorable – his ambitious go-getter elder brother Simon who tries hard to have Augie established in the society, the fallen-from-grace swindler and serial-entrepreneur Einhorn, the stern and world-wise Grandma Lausch who’d taken upon herself to be Augie and Simon’s moral guardian, the impulsive and alluring Thea who pets a bald eagle and with whom Augie has a relationship that takes him to Mexican wilderness, the headstrong Mimi who becomes his platonic friend for a while, the self-professed genius Basteshaw with whom he survives a shipwreck, the beautiful but self-serving Stella who he gets married to, et al. The spectacular and over-the-top proceedings, coincidences, and constant series of narrative developments, were suitably supported by Bellow’s linguistic flair, gift of the gab and power of imagery.

Author: Saul Bellow
Genre: Satire/Picaresque Novel/Bildungsroman
Language: English
Country: US