hendersonWho wrote this book and when?
Saul Bellow published this novel in 1959.

Has there been a film version?
I don’t believe so.

Who are the important characters?
Eugene Henderson – a man searching for spiritual fulfillment, he’s very big physically and somewhat frightening of appearance
Romilayu – Henderson’s guide in Africa, a strong Christian although pretty eccentric
King Dahfu – the king of the Wariri, he is obsessed with lions, very well educated, and practically an MD
Lily – Eugene’s wife who is just as charismatic as he is

What’s it about?
Henderson is a man who has led an interesting life. He’s been a pig farmer and a world traveler, married twice, and has several children. But now in his fifties, he feels that his life is lacking something. On a whim, he decides to travel with one of his friends to deeper Africa, and once there, Henderson splits off with a guide named Romilayu. The pair travel to two tribes – the Arnewi and the Wariri. Both lead to comic results and disaster for Henderson as he searches for the answer to gaining fulfillment in life. The Arnewi are suffering from a plague of frogs in their drinking water, which Henderson tries to fix. And the Wariri’s King – Dahfu – strikes up a friendship with Henderson resulting in Henderson being crowned the “Sungo” or the Rain King.

Why is this book a classic/bestseller?
It’s Saul Bellows’s favorite of his works and is noted for being a great blend of philosophy and comedy.

Do you recommend I read this book?
I enjoyed it, although it took me a while to get through.

How did this book make your list?
It was ranked number 21 on the Modern Library’s list of 100 Best Novels.

Has it won any awards?
No formal ones.

Favorite quotes:
“And I prayed and prayed, ‘Oh, you…Something,’ I said, ‘you Something because of whom there is not Nothing. Help me to do Thy will. Take off my stupid sins. Untrammel me. Heavenly Father, open up my dumb heart and for Christ’s sake preserve me from unreal things. Oh, Thou who tookest me from pigs, let me not be killed over lions. And forgive my crimes and nonsense and let me return to Lily and the kids.'” – p 253

“We are funny creatures. We don’t see the stars as they are so why do we love them? They are not small gold objects but endless fire.” – p 285

Anything else?
This is Saul Bellow’s favorite Saul Bellow novel.

Personal thoughts:
I can see why Bellow released a statement about not looking for symbolism in every book published right before he published this book. The combination of humor and philosophy would have worked the literary critics of his day if they tried to find symbolism in this book. Or maybe Bellow meant for them to. I guess, according to W, no one can decide if it’s his worst book or his best book. I personally, liked it. I couldn’t get into the other Bellow book I tried to read – “Herzog.” I did enjoy this one. The character of Henderson made me both laugh and cringe, but I could still relate to him. Everyone has to go through that spell in life where they need to find a meaning. I found it in Christ, but I can see how a man who doesn’t have that could be pushed to travel all the way to Africa in the hopes of finding someone who can tell him the meaning of life. I felt sorry for Dahfu, but I do love Africa and lions and most animals from that general region except for hyenas. (Blame that on Buffy). Both Dahfu and Henderson were such different creatures from each other that I loved seeing how they interacted. And I enjoyed how they weren’t a great many different characters. Normally, I feel like a book lacks depth, but this worked. It showed how deeply Henderson connected with Dahfu and it showed how alone he felt in the rest of the world. Maybe after this pleasant (although drawn out read) I can tackle “Herzog” again.