Information about the author.
For many years, the great poet Von Humboldt Fleisher and Charlie Citrine, a young man inflamed with a love for literature, were the best of friends. At the time of his death, however, Humboldt is a failure, and Charlie’s life has reached a low point: his career is at a standstill, and he’s enmeshed in an acrimonious divorce, infatuated with a highly unsuitable young woman, and involved with a neurotic mafioso. And then Humboldt acts from beyond the grave, bestowing upon Charlie an unexpected legacy that may just help him turn his life around.
Mr. Artur Sammler, Holocaust survivor, intellectual, and occasional lecturer at Columbia University in 1960s New York City, is a “registrar of madness,” a refined and civilized being caught among people crazy with the promises of the future (moon landings, endless possibilities). His Cyclopean gaze reflects on the degradations of city life while looking deep into the sufferings of the human soul. “Sorry for all and sore at heart,” he observes how greater luxury and leisure have only led to more human suffering. To Mr. Sammler—who by the end of this ferociously unsentimental novel has found the compassionate consciousness necessary to bridge the gap between himself and his fellow beings—a good life is one in which a person does what is “required of him.” To know and to meet the “terms of the contract” was as true a life as one could live. At its heart, this novel is quintessential Bellow: moral, urbane, sublimely humane.
Albert Corde, dean of a Chicago college, is unprepared for the violent response to his expose of city corruption. Accused of betraying his city, as well as being a racist, he journeys to Bucharest, where his mother-in-law lies dying, only to find corruption rife in the Communist capital. Switching back and forth between the two cities, The Dean’s December represents Bellow’s “most spirited resistance to the forces of our time” (Malcolm Bradbury).