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Saul Bellow: The Victim

Bellow’s second novel, which did not have the same success as its predecessor, is about our responsibility for others, if any. Asa Leventhal is the editor of a magazine. He had quarrelled with the boss of Kirby Allbee and, according to Allbee, who turns up unannounced at Leventhal’s New York apartment one summer night, is responsible for Allbee losing his job and, subsequently, his wife (because of his drinking). Even though there are obvious doubts about Leventhal’s responsibility, he does help Allbee with money and a bed. Allbee abuses Leventhal’s kindness and even tries to kill himself in the apartment.

At the same time, Leventhal is dealing with family problems. His own wife is away (helping her mother move) and his brother is working in Texas, having left behind his wife, Asa’s sister-in-law, Elena (who is Catholic, not Jewish). Elena calls Leventhal at work because her son, Leventhal’s nephew, Mickey, is ill. Leventhal is already concerned about the marriage to a non-Jewish family but when Mickey dies, he feels guilty, particularly as Elena’s mother blames him. All of this takes place against the background of the Nuremberg Trials and the full realisation of the Holocaust. Ultimately, Asa confronts his own demons (his mother’s insanity and his distance from his father) as well as these new ones but is now aware that no man is an island but part of a social network.

Publishing history

First published 1947 by Vanguard