QUESTIONS AND TOPICS FOR DISCUSSION
Abe Ravelstein is a capacious, vibrant, larger-than-life character; a teacher who insists that the ideas of Plato, Aristotle, and Nietzsche are vitally important to his students’ lives; a philosopher who is committed to saving human dignity from encroaching “boobism”; and at the same time a man who luxuriates in all the sensual pleasures life has to offer, from Armani suits to the finest French hotels. When his friend Chick suggests he turn one of his popular courses into a book, no one would have foreseen that it would become an international bestseller and vault its author into a worldwide, and often controversial, spotlight. As Chick notes, “It’s no small matter to become rich and famous by saying exactly what you think—to say it in your own words, without compromise.” The wealth such success brings allows Ravelstein to indulge his extravagant tastes, but as his health begins to fail and he senses death from AIDS approaching, he turns to Chick and requests that he write a memoir of his life.
Six years pass before Chick is able to begin a book that turns out to be not a memoir but a novel and not simply Ravelstein’s life story but a complex and interconnected portrait of their friendship, the profound impact it has had on him, and Chick’s confrontation with his own mortality. Approaching his subject in a “piecemeal” way—through anecdotes, flashbacks, poignant vignettes, reported conversations—Chick attempts not to provide an account of Ravelstein’s ideas but of his personal life, to make himself “responsible for the person…” What emerges is the story of a remarkable friendship, both intellectually challenging and emotionally intense, between two men who share their deepest secrets and who discuss everything from Vaudeville routines, Chick’s wives, and French cuisine to Ravelstein’s Socratic view of love, and the Holocaust and its legacy for the twentieth century. In the process, we see Ravelstein eating, drinking, and holding forth, playing matchmaker with his students, visiting heads of states, poking holes in Chick’s political naiveté, and generally reveling in both the life of the mind and of the body.
ABOUT SAUL BELLOW
Saul Bellow is the author of twelve novels and numerous novellas and stories. He is the only novelist to receive three National Book Awards, for The Adventures of Augie March, Herzog, and Mr. Sammler’s Planet. In 1975 he won the Pulitzer Prize for his novel Humboldt’s Gift. The Nobel Prize in Literature was awarded to him in 1976. In 1990 Mr. Bellow was presented the National Book Award Foundation Medal for distinguished contribution to American letters. A longtime resident of Chicago, Mr. Bellow now lives in New England.