I had absolutely no idea of what to expect from Henderson the Rain King by Saul Bellow, but I found a delightful romp through Africa with our over-sized, over-stressed titular protagonist Eugene Henderson.
Henderson finds his life particularly uninspiring and decides to travel to Africa in search of spiritual and personal fulfillment. He soon breaks with his original tour group and hires native guide Romilayu, who takes him to the village of the Arnewi. Here we follow the duo’s adventures as they try to rid the main cistern of frogs and eventually have to feel the village, finding refuge with the Wari. Henderson befriends the Chief, King Dahfu, who has been educated in the West and enjoys the philosophical discussions he is able to have with Henderson. More adventures follow, with the tribe eventually bestowing Henderson with the title of Rain King. When our hero realizes that the Rain King is the next successor to the throne, he has to decide if it is time to return home.
This was an uplifting book, and I read it in one or two long stretches of insomnia during the summer. Bellows is the author of my favorite writing quote, “You never have to change anything you got up in the middle of the night to write,” so I found it fitting that this was my nocturnal page-turner during that time.
I also found quite a number of phrasings and quotes that spoke to me, so please indulge my long, long list of favorites:
“From my old man I inherited three million dollars after taxes, but I thought myself a bum and had my reasons, the main reason being that I behaved like a bum.” (loc 23)
“There are Edward, Ricey, Alice, and two more- Christ, I’ve got plenty of children. God bless the whole bunch of them.” (loc 38)
“After Frances laughed at my dream of a medical career I never discussed another thing with her.” (loc 192)
“She thought I was a big slob but of substantial value just the same.” (loc 203)
“Of course, in an age of madness, to expect to be untouched by madness is a form of madness.” (loc 350)
“Family life with Lily was not all that might have been predicted by an optimist.” (loc 407)
“Came November and the tenants began to feel cool. Well, they were bookish people; they didn’t move around enough to keep their body heat up.” (loc 555)
“Society is what beats me. Alone I can be pretty good, but let me go among people and there’s the devil to pay.” (loc 727)
“I am not good at suppressing my feelings. Whole crowds of them, especially the bad ones, wave to the world from the galleries of my face.” (loc 791)
“Not that I care too much about geography; it’s one of those bossy ideas according to which, if you locate a place, there’s nothing more to be said about it. “ (loc 817)
“I never expected to see such a color in Africa. I swear. And I was worried lest it pass before I could get everything I should out of it.” ( loc 1512)
“The water was ghostly, lazy, slow, stupefying, with a vast dull shine. Coppery. A womb of white.” (loc 1846)
‘ “Dad, I’m in love,” he tells me. “What’s the matter? Is she in trouble?”’ (loc 1873)
“But this dead man on my back was no Lazarus.” (loc 2096)
“I am a true adorer of life, and if I can’t reach as high as the face of it, I plant my kiss somewhere lower down.” (loc 2245)
“Some voices once heard will never stop resounding in your head, and such a voice I recognized in his from his first words.” (loc 2303)
“God has never given me half as much intuition as I constantly require.” (loc 2421)
“As I couldn’t trust him, I had to understand him.” (loc 2421)
“He pulled his majesty on me so lightly it was hardly noticeable.” (loc 2507)
“Everybody should study the Bible.” (loc 2572)
“All the noise had died, had gone like the wrinkles of a cloth under the hot iron.” (loc 2620)
“Anyway, I often want to say things and they stay in my mind. Therefore they don’t actually exist; you can’t take credit for them if they never emerge.” (loc 2644)
“The whole thing is so peculiar the explanation will have to be peculiar too.” (loc 3083)
“ ‘The spirit of the person in a sense is the author of his body.’ ” (loc 3608)
“Minus yourself of some of your heavy reluctance of attitude.” (loc 4046)
“But face and body are the book of the soul, open to the reader of science and sympathy.” (loc 4127)
“ ‘Sticks and stones may break my bones, but this is idle superstition, and so forth.’ ” (loc 4457).
“Other passengers were reading. Personally, I can ‘t see that. How can you sit in a plane and be so indifferent?” (loc 5099)
I give this book an
I absolutely loved it and would read it again.