- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 6, 2005

NEW YORK (AP) — Nobel laureate Saul Bellow, author of “Herzog,” “Humboldt’s Gift” and other novels, died yesterday. He was 89.

Mr. Bellow’s close friend and attorney, Walter Pozen, said the writer had been in declining health, but was “wonderfully sharp to the end.” Mr. Pozen said that Mr. Bellow’s wife and daughter were at his side when he died at his home in Brookline, Mass.

The funeral will be private, Mr. Pozen said. A public memorial is also planned.

Mr. Bellow was the most acclaimed of a generation of Jewish writers who emerged after World War II, among them Bernard Malamud, Philip Roth and Cynthia Ozick. To American letters, he brought the immigrant’s hustle, the bookworm’s brains and the high-minded notions of the born romantic.

“The backbone of 20th-century American literature has been provided by two novelists — William Faulkner and Saul Bellow,” Mr. Roth said yesterday. “Together they are the Melville, Hawthorne and Twain of the 20th century.”

Mr. Bellow was the first writer to win the National Book Award three times: in 1954 for “The Adventures of Augie March,” in 1965 for “Herzog” and in 1971 for “Mr. Sammler’s Planet.” In 1976, he won the Pulitzer Prize for “Humboldt’s Gift.” That same year, Mr. Bellow was awarded the Nobel Prize in literature, cited for his “human understanding and subtle analysis of contemporary culture.” In 2003, the Library of America paid the rare tribute of releasing work by a living writer, issuing a volume of Mr. Bellow’s early novels.

Mr. Bellow also had detractors. Norman Mailer called “Augie March” a “travelogue for timid intellectuals.” Critic Alfred Kazin, a longtime friend who became estranged from Mr. Bellow, thought the author had become a “university intellectual” with “contempt for the lower orders.” Biographer James Atlas accused Mr. Bellow of favoring “subservient women in order to serve his own shaky self-image.”

Mr. Bellow kept writing into his 80s and, hoping to make his work more affordable, had his novella “A Theft” published as a paperback original in 1989. His recent works included “The Actual,” a sentimental novella published in 1997, and “Ravelstein,” a 2000 novel based on the life of his late friend, Allan Bloom, author of “The Closing of the American Mind.”

Among his most personal novels was “Humboldt’s Gift,” which Mr. Bellow described as “a comic book about death,” culminating in an emotional graveyard scene.

The main character in the novel is an aging Chicago writer chasing a younger woman while trying to keep a former wife from ruining him financially. Two years after the book was published, Mr. Bellow faced a 10-day jail term for contempt of court in an alimony dispute with his third wife, Susan Glassman Bellow. An Illinois appeals court overturned the sentence.

In December 1999, Mr. Bellow’s fifth wife, Janis Freedman, gave birth to their daughter, Naomi. Mr. Bellow, 84 at the time, had three grown sons from prior marriages, and said about finally having a girl: “If I didn’t succeed at first, I’ll try again.”

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