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Herzog Background

by Saul Bellow

About Herzog

Herzog is often called autobiographical, a claim not wanting in evidence. Bellow wrote the book in multiple locations, namely Puerto Rico, New York, and Chicago, while in the throes of a marital crisis. The crisis was rooted, to Bellow's shock, in the disloyalty of his closest friend, Jack Ludwig, who was found having an affair with Bellow's second wife, Sondra. Therefore Bellow's second marriage may very well have unraveled in a similar fashion to his protagonist's. Herzog's plight throughout the book reflects the difficulties endured by the author; at the end, having rediscovered a sense of security in himself, Herzog's need for catharsis through his letter-writing evaporates much as Bellow's need to write Herzog seems to ebb. In this way Bellow's affinity with his hero is transparent.

Their personal histories bear many telling similarities. Bellow was born in Quebec and, like Herzog, he was raised in Montreal and spent a considerable amount of time in Chicago. Both were raised Jewish, and the three languages featured in Herzog - French, English, and Yiddish - reflect Bellow's own trilingual heritage. Herzog's identity crisis stems in part from this heterogeneity of cultures; this surely reflects a similar dilemma in Bellow. In this sense Herzog and Bellow undergo similar ordeals, both in the immediate and the perpetual sense.

Herzog has been the object of critical and popular acclaim since it was published in 1964. It is said to represent one of the major reasons Bellow won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1976.

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