Saul Bellow was a Nobel Prize-winning author. He was also a husband and father. Greg Bellow, author of the memoir Saul Bellow’s Heart, discusses how his dad struggled to balance his artistic calling and family life.
Greg Bellow: After my father passed away, I found that most of the attention was being paid to the famous author he became later in life rather than the young rebellious writer who raised me. Though I protected his privacy when he was alive, I became concerned that a full picture of him over the course of his entire life was necessary. Rather than keeping my silence I decided to override my doubts and write as accurate an account of him in all of his complexity as I was able to do.
Zola: You paint several Sauls: young and optimistic, middle-aged and in many ways confused, and old and at times reversing what he had once stood for. Which one of these are you fondest of or do you find yourself remembering most?
GB: The young optimistic Saul is by far my favorite because he and I were closest during those years and because I retained much of the optimism he lost.
Zola: You were a psychotherapist for 40 years. Speaking from there, not as the man’s son, what was behind his novels?
GB: There was a massive intelligence, a great facility with language, a love of literature, and immense ambition.
Zola: What was he trying to do?
GB: He was trying to portray the immense complexity of the human condition.
Zola: And why couldn’t he connect more to his kids, his wives?
GB: Literature came first in his life.
Zola: What is your favorite book by your father?
GB: Henderson The Rain King. It was his favorite, too.
GB: I have two brothers: Adam, 13 years my junior, and Dan, 19 years my junior. Adam was concerned that my discussion of my father’s politics needed to be sharpened and he made a number of comments that I incorporated into the book, making those sections much stronger. Dan was pleased with the book but urged me to say more about how my father used life events and people he knew in his novels. I included a few more examples but felt my treatment of the novels was more about Saul and his views and feelings than those of characters other than his narrators—who often express his state of mind.
Zola: What do you think your father’s lasting influence on the world is, and how do you see your book fitting into that?
GB: I think it is too soon after his death to answer the first half of the question. My book is a small contribution to better understanding him as a man, as a father, and as a human being.
This article originally appeared on Zola Books.