Bellow blasts off

Rating: NNNNNSaul Bellow waited until he was 84 to create his most astonishing character. And he based it on a.


Rating: NNNNN


Saul Bellow waited until he was 84 to create his most astonishing character. And he based it on a real person, the noted philosopher and author — and Bellow’s best friend — Allan Bloom.

Abe Ravelstein is a wildly controversial midwestern professor of philosophy who spends his time jetting between Chicago and Paris with his closest associate, Chick (read Bellow), whom he’s commissioned — rather, commanded — to write the story of his life after he’s gone.

Both are well past normal retirement age, but although he’s dying of AIDS-related illness, Ravelstein refuses to discontinue his unconventional sessions training the world’s future political movers and shakers. Former students, now heads of state, frequently call.

Reviled by most of the academic community, he’s revered by his students, adored by his mostly anti-intellectual readers and loved by Chick and Chick’s much younger wife. Ravelstein, in turn, greatly values the two of them.

It was Chick, after all, who convinced Ravelstein to compile his radical teachings into a book that became an international best-seller (as Bellow did with Bloom, resulting in Bloom’s bombshell The Closing Of The American Mind) and turned him into a millionaire several times over.

Damn good thing, too, because Ravelstein always lived voraciously and with abandon, not to mention well beyond his means.

But once the cheques start pouring in, he’s able to shower his friends with expensive gifts and hold court with his young followers in his outrageously opulent apartment. For Ravelstein and Nikki, his young Chinese prince lover and heir, nothing but the very best that money can buy will do.

Through Chick’s running commentary on Ravelstein’s pre-deathbed antics and their staggeringly brilliant conversations about history, philosophy, love and mortality, Bellow has crafted a moving, high-powered, hilarious and often dark narrative about a character who may in time be seen as one of western literature’s most amazing.

In a word — wow.

DARYL JUNG

Write to books at susanc@nowtoronto.com.

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