Ranked #21 on Modern Library's list of the 100 Best Novels, Henderson the Rain King's blend of philosophical discourse and comic adventure has helped make it one of Bellow's most enduringly popular works. It is said to be Bellow's own favorite among his books.
Bellow evokes all the rich color and exotic customs of a highly imaginary Africa in this comic novel about a middle-aged American millionaire who, seeking a new, more rewarding life, descends upon an African tribe. Henderson's awesome feats of strength and his unbridled passion for life earn him the admiration of the tribe – but it is his gift for making rain that turns him from mere hero into messiah.
A hilarious, often ribald story, Henderson the Rain King is also a profound look at the forces that drive a man through life.
As an added bonus, when you purchase our Audible Modern Vanguard production of Saul Bellow's book, you'll also receive an exclusive Jim Atlas interview. This interview – where James Atlas interviews Azar Nafisi about the life and work of Saul Bellow – begins as soon as the audiobook ends.
Summoning a deluge from the sky, building an explosive to rid a pond of frogs, forging an intimate bond with a powerful lion these are just some of the actions undertaken in Africa by the title character in Saul Bellow's astounding, inventive novel Henderson The Rain King.
Winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature and a titan of 20th-century American fiction, Bellow belongs to a select group of skilled American novelists (with John Updike and Philip Roth) best known for their precise examinations of middle-aged, middle-class men yearning for more out of life than two cars or two houses. Bellow's title character in Henderson harbors the same, ceaseless hunger for life, manifested in a voice inside him which cries out day in and day out, "I want, I want, I want." But while Roth and Updike's characters rarely stray far from America's northeast corridor, the voice inside Eugene Henderson compels him to travel to remote corners of civilization in Africa.
A brief summary of the novel's plot sounds preposterous: a middle-aged millionaire travels to Africa, where he becomes The Rain King. But Bellow manages to make such a seemingly far-fetched story sound believable one sentence at a time.
And narrator Joe Barrett's grizzled voice is perfect for bringing to life Henderson's unique perspective and tone. In the beginning, Henderson is like one of those pushy, half-drunk loudmouths you can't wait to get away from in line at an airline counter. Listening to Barrett squawk Henderson's wisecracks and American slang in Africa initially gives the book an absurd, humorous quality. But as this fable-like novel progresses, Henderson gradually and plausibly evolves into a God-like figure. Barrett makes the dramatic transformation, as well as the entirety of Henderson's mad-cap journey, sound realistic. Ken Ross
"A kind of wildly delirious dream made real by the force of Bellow's rollicking prose and the offbeat inventiveness of his language." (Chicago Tribune)
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