A fiction writer, essayist, playwright, lecturer, and memoirist, Saul Bellow was born in Lachine, Quebec, in 1915, and was raised in Chicago. He received his Bachelor's degree from Northwestern University in 1937 and did graduate work at the University of Wisconsin before serving in the Marines during World War II. Later, during the 1967 Arab-Israeli conflict, Bellow served as a war correspondent for Newsday. Throughout his long and productive career, he contributed fiction to several magazines and quarterlies, including The New Yorker, Partisan Review, Playboy, and Esquire, as well as criticism to The New York Times Book Review, The New Republic, The New Leader, and others. Universally recognized as one of the greatest authors of the twentieth century, Bellow has won more honors than almost any other American writer. Among these, he received the Pulitzer Prize for his novel Humboldt's Gift and the B’nai B’rith Jewish Heritage Award for “excellence in Jewish literature.” He was the first American to win the International Literary Prize, and remains the only novelist in history to have received three National Book awards, for The Adventures of Augie March, Herzog, and Mr. Sammler's Planet. In 1976, Bellow was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature “for the human understanding and subtle analysis of contemporary culture that are combined in his work.” Saul Bellow died in 2005 at age 89.
When Erik Davidsen and his sister, Inga, find a disturbing note from an unknown woman among their dead father's papers, they believe he may be implicated in a mysterious death. Siri Hustvedt's The Sorrows of an American tells the story of the Davidsen family as brother and sister uncover its secrets and unbandage its wounds in the year following their father's funeral.
Returning to New York from Minnesota, the grieving siblings continue to pursue the mystery behind the note. While Erik's fascination with his new tenants and emotional vulnerability to his psychiatric patients threaten to overwhelm him, Inga is confronted by a hostile journalist who seems to know a secret connected to her dead husband, a famous novelist. As each new mystery unfolds, Erik begins to inhabit his emotionally hidden father's history and to glimpse how his impoverished childhood, the Depression, and the war shaped his relationship with his children, while Inga must confront the reality of her husband's double life.
A novel about fathers and children, listening and deafness, recognition and blindness; the pain of speaking and the pain of keeping silent, the ambiguities of memory, loneliness, illness, and recovery. Siri Hustvedt's exquisitely moving prose reveals one family's hidden sorrows through an extraordinary mosaic of secrets and stories that reflect the fragmented nature of identity itself.
Like Malamud's best stories, this novel unerringly evokes an immigrant world of cramped circumstances and great expectations. Malamud defined the immigrant experience in a way that has proven vital for several generations of writers.
"His best novel . . . The Assistant is as tightly written as a prose poem." --Morris Dickstein in Leopards in the Temple: The Transformation of American Fiction 1945-1970
"It is like hearing that…J. D. Salinger is preparing a sequel to The Catcher in the Rye," the New York Times Book Review pronounced, while Vanity Fair extolled Roth's new work as "the literary comeback of the century." Even more astonishing was that Roth had not just written a second novel but a total of four chronologically linked works, all part of Mercy of a Rude Stream. Dying in 1995 at the age of eighty-nine, Roth would not live to see the final two volumes of this tetralogy published, yet the reappearance of Mercy of a Rude Stream, a fulfillment of Roth's wish that these installments appear as one complete volume, allows for a twenty-first-century public to reappraise this late-in-life masterpiece, just as Call it Sleep was rediscovered by a new generation in 1964.
As the story unfolds, we follow the turbulent odyssey of Ira, along with his extended Jewish family, friends, and lovers, from the outbreak of World War I through his fateful decision to move into the Greenwich Village apartment of his muse and older lover, the seductive but ultimately tragic NYU professor Edith Welles. Set in both the fractured world of Jewish Harlem and the bohemian maelstrom of the Village, Mercy of a Rude Stream echoes Nabokov in its portrayal of sexual deviance, and offers a harrowing and relentless family drama amid a grand panorama of New York City in the 1910s and Roaring 20s.
Yet in spite of a plot that is fraught with depictions of menace, violence, and intense self-loathing, Mercy of a Rude Stream also contains a cathartic, even redemptive, overlay as "provocative as anything in the chapters of St. Augustine" (Los Angeles Times), in which an elder Ira, haunted by the sins of his youth, communes with his computer, Ecclesias, as he recalls how his family's traditional piety became corrupted by the inexorable forces of modernity. As Ira finally decides to get "the hell out of Harlem," his Proustian act of recollection frees him from the ravages of old age, and suddenly he is in his prime again, the entire telling of Mercy his final pronouncement.
Mercy of a Rude Stream is that rare work of fiction that creates, through its style and narration, a new form of art. Indeed, the two juxtaposed voices—one of the "little boys swimming in a sea of glory," the other of one of those same boys "in old age being rudely swept to sea"—creates a counterpoint, jarring yet oddly harmonious, that makes this prophetic American work such an lasting statement on the frailties of memory and the essence of human consciousness.
Mercy of a Rude Stream: The Complete Novels includes A Star Shines Over Mt. Morris Park, A Diving Rock on the Hudson, From Bondage, and Requiem for Harlem.