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Saul Bellow: The Dean’s December

In Bellow’s tale of two cities, he compares what he sees as the moral bankruptcy of the communist system (represented by Bucharest) and the USA (as represented by Chicago). Albert Corde is the dean of the title, at a college in Chicago. He is married to Minna, a Romanian, whose mother, a well-known Communist official who has now fallen from grace, is dying. The couple travel to Bucharest where Corde sits in his hotel room ruminating on his problems back home while Minna tries to get to see her mother. She faces all sorts of problems with the Romanian bureaucracy. But it is not just in Bucharest that the individual is put under pressure. Corde, as well as being a dean, was also a journalist and had written articles on the blacks in Chicago and, in particular, had pushed for the prosecution of two blacks accused of murdering a white student. He has been accused of racism and there is a good chance the defendants will get off, leaving his critics justified in their criticism. As with other Bellow heroes, Corde spends a lot of time in reflection, not just on his problems but on the comparison and poor treatment of individuals in both systems. This book attracted mixed reviews and it certainly does repeat some of Bellow’s previous themes but I must say I did enjoy his ponderings in Bucharest and the way he compared the two systems and would certainly recommend this book.

Publishing history

First published 1982 by Harper & Row