Henderson the Rain King

ISBN: 0140189424
ISBN 13: 9780140189421
By: Saul Bellow

Check Price Now


1001 1001 Books Africa Classics Currently Reading Favorites Fiction Literature Modern Library 100 Novels

About this book

Henderson has come to Africa on a spiritual safari, a quest for the truth. His feats of strength, his passion for life, and, most importantly, his inadvertant success in bringing rain have made him a god-like figure among the tribes.

Reader's Thoughts

Mitchel Broussard

I imagine that chick from Eat Pray Love owes a lot to this book. Some rich and successful but oh-so-depressed dillhole decides to go to Africa because, you know, foreign countries have ALL the answers because they're SO mysterious!I don't even feel like explaining. Henderson is a grade A asshole, even when he starts to "become" or whatever the fuck that means. I didn't care about him. I didn't care whether he "became" and I didn't care whether that baby tiger he takes home with him on the plane retaliated against his captors and devoured everyone on board. Okay, maybe that would have made me like it a bit more.The way it's written is almost stream-of-consciousnesses so Henderson constantly jumps back to compare events that are going on in the present with stuff in the past that we as readers don't even know about yet. After a while, I skimmed most of it, honestly, and got the plot holes filled in by sparknotes, and will be ready to put the words "I want, I want" as much as possible on my quiz in school.If there is one thing it does well, it rockets boredom to new frontiers. And I now know that everyone that "loves" this book, like The Sound and the Fury, is either A) Trying to impress someone into thinking they are a literary scholar who totally love existential crises in fiction because it really shows off our bare-bones human nature, ya know? or B) Are exactly like Henderson and need to stop reading depressing shit and pick up a Harry Potter book or something.

David Lentz

For those who want to get into the work of Saul Bellow, this is perhaps one of his most accessible novels. It's about a rich and eccentric man who travels to Africa and encounters a tribal chief who own lions. The tribal chief is brilliant and teaches Henderson some valuable lessons. The encounters with the lion were real and vivid and moving. Henderson is vintage Bellow and is relatively easy to read: it has less of a scholarly bent than several of Bellow's other novels like Ravelstein, Herzog and Humboldt's Gift, all of which take the reader into a very high intellectual plane. This novel is existential: it's Bellow not so much him versus the intellectual premises of ancient scholars but is rather Bellow versus the raw power of the forces of life itself. I admire greatly this literary work which displays all of Bellow's virtuosity with the power that the reality of his experience brings into this story. I highly recommend this novel for anyone wanting to gain access into Bellow without having first to take a course in the philosophy of ancient scholars. This is Bellow at his most accessible and most powerful. I strongly encourage you to savor this great and highly original novel.

Quân Khuê

Cuốn này, sau chừng 100 trang đầu, tôi tự hỏi mình có nên đọc tiếp. Nhưng cũng vào lúc tôi đang băn khoăn thì nhân vật chính, Henderson - một triệu phú người Mỹ, đột nhiên quyết định đi sang châu Phi. Những chuyến đi châu Phi luôn hứa hẹn những điều kỳ thú, nhất là khi Henderson quyết định tránh xa những dấu vết văn minh để đi off the beaten track vào những nơi xa xôi, hẻo lánh, lạ lùng nhất. Trước chuyến đi châu Phi, thành tích đáng kể nhất của Henderson là bắn hụt một con mèo (tất nhiên phải trừ quả huân chương trong chiến tranh thế giới thứ hai). Chuyến đi châu Phi của Henderson đầy ắp những sự kiện đáng ghen tỵ cho bất cứ tiểu thuyết phiêu lưu nào: làm nổ tung một bồn nước đầy ếch nhái bằng một quả bom làm từ đèn pin và dây giày, ngủ cùng với xác chết, đột nhiên bị lột quần áo và tung hô hay gầm gào cùng với sư tử. Thế nhưng, lẽ dĩ nhiên Ông hoàng mưa không chỉ là một tiểu thuyết phiêu lưu. Cái tiếng nói trong đầu Henderson thôi thúc ông rời khỏi cuộc sống vô vị dấn thân vào cuộc phiêu lưu để tìm hiểu bản thân mình muốn gì hẳn là tiếng nói mà đôi khi mỗi chúng ta cũng nghe thấy nhưng thường bị lờ đi. Và những đoạn đối thoại giữa Henderson và vị vua sư tử minh triết Dahfu thực sự là thức ăn thượng hạng cho tâm hồn, tha hồ cho ta vừa ăn vừa chiêm nghiệm cuộc sống.

Michael Alexander

Just off a reread from this baby, I'm both reminded of how amazing its best parts are and made aware for the first time how lame its worst parts are. Really, this thing is a 5-star, best-of-all-time book and a dubious 3-star adventure yoked together pretty awkwardly--but sometimes transcendently.The heart of what I love in this book is the poetry of the language, the over-the-top romanticism about Life and Meaning and Ecstatic Experience. Bellow is pouring out these incredible bits of prose about the unacknowledged beauty of life and the difficulty of remembering it in a world where everything good eventually runs down to nothing. And he's doing it in maybe the best midlife crisis narrative I've ever read, with this vitality-bursting-out comic expansiveness that reminds me of bits of Joyce or Tom Robbins or Sterne (sorry to pick people so utterly disparate, but the thread works in my head I _swear_)--and like those, the vigor of the comedy is just a way of expressing a deeply serious and poignant love of life. And this drunken, gluttonous loud-mouthed boor of a life-wasting heir to a fortune who Bellow makes his main character is an AMAZING creation to carry this narrative.And then there's the Africa adventure stuff. Which is meant to be a silly fantasy-world, a kind of sharp parody of Heart of Darkness, where Henderson thinks he can confront all his demons at Freudian Disneyland but turns out to have to face Real Honest To God Life (Amongst Intentionally Ridiculous Stereotypes of "Natives")--and sometimes, that works brilliantly, and sometimes it's just LAME. It works better, with some real tragedy and clear sense that he's being an arrogant prick and has to face the consequences, with the first "tribe" he meets than the second, lemme tell ya. And that second culture he encounters takes up a good hundred pages that suck out most of the energy of the rest of the book.But those words, at their best, they GLOW: "We are funny creatures. We don't see the stars as they are, so why do we love them? They are not small gold objects but endless fire." "Shall I run back into the desert ... and stay there until the devil has passed out of me and I am fit to meet human kind again without driving it to despair at the first look? I haven't had enough desert yet."


Henderson The Rain King certainly provides food for thought. Eugene Henderson's macho character was modeled after another famous E. H. This E. H. was a boozer, went to Africa and carried his macho weight around like a club as does Eugene Henderson, and at times, wanted to blow his brains out. As many people of the day went off to Africa - however, notes Henderson, 'man goes into the external world, and all he can do with it is to shoot it?' Eugene just wants to set the record straight, with himself, because he's grown too fat and feels disgusted, with everything.It's not that Eugene doesn't have everything, because he does. He's inherited a lot of money from his father's estate, he has a wonderful old family home where he raises pigs. He has a wife (second) and lots of children who he rarely bats an eye to. He also strives to play the violin, the same one his father played. But he is a blustery, miserable, drunken sod who yells and carries on - owing to the craving that he is constantly in want.Eugene Henderson decides finally that he has to go to Africa or die in bed. Those are his options. Africa is a wake up call as travel is to live and experience things that one is not accustomed to. He of coarse blunders his way around and is always searching for a foothold. He wants answers and he wants someone to see him for who and what he truly is. And he wants his life to have meaning and purpose. The second African tribe he settles in with (after botching the visit to the first tribe), he makes a good friend in King Dahfu. The king is also in transition trying to abolish some of the old, superstitous ways of his tribe as he is educated and does not rely on superstition alone as the tribe tends to-however, he walks a very fine line.I found this book to be full of little gems such as the allusion to Walt Whitman (Enough to merely be! Enough to breathe!) -"Being. Others were taken up with becoming. Being people have all the breaks. Becoming people are very unlucky, always in a tizzy. The Becoming people are always having to make explanations or offer justifications to the Being people. While Being people provoke these explanations...Enough, enough. Time to have become. Time to be. Burst the spirit's sleep..." I like this sort of thing.Eugene's character grows, he tries to get passed becoming and he realizes the importance of things he took for granted and he also comes to terms with the past and with his own imperfections as a human being. This is a funny book at times, but it wasn't hilarious to me because I realized that much of Eugene's blunders come from his good intentions and from pain itself, but of coarse much of it all is self inflicted and comes from an over inflated ego. At times, Eugene reminded me of Ignatius Reilly with his blowhard, blustery ways of blundering. But throughout the book, I liked him. He does have a good sense of humor.I really enjoyed this book, might not be for all, but if you enjoy a work that speaks for the ages, this is one. Saul Bellow seeks to answer the spirit's call and awaken the soul in the midst of mediocrity, boredom, and uncertainty in an age of material possesions and he does a fine job of it throughout his entire oeuvre. Any one of his books can turn into a soul searching adventure and he does have a magical, rhythmic way with words


This novel is staggering. It is the story, which we have heard so many times, of a bellicose foreigner who goes to Africa in order to find himself. But something is amiss. This isn't just some person who has lost their way a little bit, but someone that while good intentioned at times is a drunkard and a lout, selfish and violent; while he wants to be a good person, he simply isn't. Then he decides to ditch the tourist Africa and find the true heart of it in order to understand and heal himself, but when he arrives at a remote village with his guide and meets the prince of a very small and location, he is disappointed to hear him speaking English. "We are discovered," the prince says, apologizing. What follows is a continued parody of the philosophical finding of one's self in a foreign country trope. Intentions to fix the villagers foolish superstition (as deemed by Henderson) lead to a larger disaster and another superstition (which, truly, he discovers, is merely a form of control for a group of powerful individuals) which leads him to being the Rain King. The ideas further collapse as in the heart of Africa Henderson is lectured in psychology and philosophy and biology by the almost-doctor King.With lush prose and richly rendered, flawed and three dimensional main characters, Bellow provides a satire that is surprisingly erudite and logical and it seeks to undermine the genre it is masked in not by silly exaggerations, but by subtle turnings of expectation. This slim volume is certainly one of the best books of the last fifty years.


Well. This book took work. It was beautifully written, but it was dull. It was fast-paced, but it seemed to take years to get through it. The first hundred pages or so are very expository – the titular character talks about his reasons for going to Africa, but it takes a very long time for him to actually get to Africa. It’s plodding. And then suddenly the opposite happens: he gets to Africa, and in single paragraphs so many things happen that you get a little distracted. It’s hard to focus. Where many writers would describe all the actions in detail, Bellow tacks in a sentence and then just moves on. Henderson walks through a village and notices things around him, almost as though he’s narrating it a little stream-of-consciousness. The important thing to note is that it’s NOT stream-of-consciousness, so you’re stuck back with the lady at the hut while Henderson has moved over to the man with the cow.What did I like? I like that Henderson has a little Don Quijote in him. I like how he’s clearly a parody of the white savior. And then we get to the part that I loved: the sentences. The turns of phrase. The whole reason to read this book.There isn’t really a need to describe the plot of this book. Though there is plot to be had – and a frickin’ ton of it – it’s not the reason why you read this book. You've got the rich guy, the African village, pigs, frogs, lions, kings, wives, etc. Instead, I plowed through this book for the sentences, for the phrases that literally made me stop in awe of Bellow’s descriptive power.For instance, two of the more amazing sentences: "He was always so gleaming. His very blood must have been like furniture polish." Also, when describing a cemetery, specifically the headstones: "each of the dead having been mailed away, and those stones like the postage stamps death has licked." Bellow writes the most perfect similes and metaphors I've ever read.The most amazing passage, however, is Henderson’s prayer. Though it’s not really spelled out, we can work under the assumption that he’s a non-believer, but he feels compelled to offer up a prayer in the hopes that it will actually help him in the battle he faces. And he proceeds to say this, which has to be the funniest and in a way the stupidest prayer ever uttered: “Oh, you… Something, you Something because of whom there is not Nothing. Help me to do Thy Will. Take off my stupid sins. Untrammel me. Heavenly Father, open up my dumb heart and for Christ’s sake preserve me from unreal things. Oh, Thou who tookest me from pigs, let me not be killed over lions. And forgive my crimes and nonsense and let me return to Lily and the kids.” If that “for Christ’s sake” doesn’t kill you, well… this isn’t the book for you.


For a time I enjoyed the rambling, conversational prose of Henderson The Rain King as a sort of stream-of-consciousness-lite, but it eventually became annoying as the narrator would jump to past events that may have not been previously discussed to draw analogies with his current situation. This and the philosophical tone of much of the dialogue and reflection make the non-narrative parts of the story difficult to follow. I cannot shake the feeling that Bellow has some powerful thesis about life, love, personality, suffering, and the relationship between man and beast. Unfortunately, I cannot reconcile Henderson’s character with my own and am at a loss to explain the understanding that he finally seems to gain. If I am going to follow a man into deep Africa and catastrophe, I’ll take “the horror, the horror” over “I want, I want, I want”.

lori mitchell

i loved, loved, loved this book. this is the book that adam duritz from the counting crows named the song "the rain king" after...i've meant to read it for years and years and just now got around to it. i plan on buying a copy and picking it up once a year or so. it's just really so enjoyable and really beautiful. favorite excerpts:"I had a voice that said I want! I want? I? It should have told me SHE wants, HE wants, THEY want. And moreover, it's love that makes reality reality. The opposite makes the opposite.""Sometimes I think it is helpful to think of burial in a relation to the earth's crust. Four thousand five hundred miles more or less, to the core of the earth. No, graves are not deep but insignifigant, a few mere feet from the surface and not fear from fearing and desiring. More or less the same fear, more or less the same desire for thousands of generations. Child, father, father, child doing the same. Desire the same. Upon the crust, beneath the crust, again and again and again. Well, Henderson, what are the generations for, Please explain to me? Only to repeat fear and desire without a change? This cannot be what the thing is for, over and over and over. Any good man will break the cycle. There is no issue from that cycle for a man who do not take things into his hands."


This is the fifth Saul Bellow novel I have read. I started with his first, The Dangling Man (1944) and moved along. I don't know that he is currently read much (and I don't know why), but I just love his novels. I would think that an author who won three National Book Awards, a Pulitzer, and the Nobel Prize should be an American treasure.Henderson is a character who could only have been created by Bellow. Larger than life, literally and figuratively, socially embarrassing, personally challenged as a husband and a father, and richer than Croesus, he moves through life leaving a wake of disaster.Due to various events including having become bored of being a pig farmer, Henderson decides to go to Africa, looking for adventure and personal redemption. He finds both, his well-intentioned but calamitous antics among the natives affording him access to tribal royalty.As I read on, enjoying every page, I began to see that simmering below the picaresque and the improbable was satire of the highest order. Is this the year I learn to understand and appreciate satire? It keeps popping up in the most unexpected novels and I have learned that it must be tastefully done or it drives me mad.So in 1959, Bellow published a novel that spoofs the mid-life crisis, the search for personal fulfillment, the African safari, and the American can-do attitude. At the same time, Henderson actually resolves his mid-life crisis, finds personal fulfillment, has the best ever safari (yes, there are lion hunts), and refines his American bull-headed ways.How did he do that?

Nathan Isherwood

read more saul bellow. philip roth does. i hate the word romp. so let's say this book is all about personal exploration. henderson is opinionated, an american bull. he's in africa. he's being ugly and how you'd expect him to be. but he's the only one giving revelations and you couldn't imagine it any other way. he's like a teddy roosevelt mid life crisis tour guide. henderson's a brute with color. it's a search for the meaning of life with your dickhead uncle who owns a brand new chrysler. the worst part is - he finds it.

Francesco Fantuzzi

Caspita!Ho capito che, insieme a H. Boell, Bellow sarà uno degli autori che leggerò integralmente, con tanto di rilettura di Herzog. Capisco che Bellow possa essere stato particolarmente legato a questo romanzo, dato che contiene la vita al suo interno, in tante sue manifestazioni e rifratta in mille colori. Un'esistenza che spesso ci è incomprensibile, ma che si disvela, brano a brano, nelle esperienze, negli incontri più varii, e che magari, nella sua enorme complessità, non giungeremo mai ad afferrare nella sua interezza, consapevoli, tuttavia, che a questa ricerca non rinunceremo.

Kim Godard

If you enjoy philosophy, this is a book for you. Ditto if self-discovery, Don Quixote-like tilting at "windmills," allusions, and personal growth are interests of yours. Personally, this book is readable simply because Bellow is a master of the metaphor. As a taste of what you'll find, one of his best; he's describing a cemetery with its headstones: "each of the dead having been mailed away, and those stones like the postage stamps death has licked." See? Good book.


...in an age of madness, to expect to be untouched by madness is a form of madness. But the pursuitof sanity can be a form of madness, too.This book is filled with little gems like these. This is, by far, my favorite Bellow. He plots out the self-exploration of a millionaire with wit and humor, a look at what it is to love and be loved, and most importantly, the difference between what it means to be and become.We are all looking for the truth, but in that search do we become slaves to our own falsehoods about ourselves and the world around us? This is just one of the questions that Bellow brought to the fore in the book...I think you should read it. I think everyone should read it. Really.

Arun Divakar

There is a thriving trade in self-help books which have always baffled me. I could never relate to another person telling me Look, these are the steps you need to take to better your life & if you don't take them you are done for ! Well, no book will be so absolute in saying so but underlying all the sugarcoating there is this message loud & clear in most books of this genre. Then however comes the matter of literature where a clever author without even giving you the faintest clue ties a blindfold around your eyes and walks you along telling you the story of a character & a quest. At some point (s)he pulls the blindfold off you & cries There, you see where our character is right now ? Then and only then do you realize the importance of the word self-discovery. Precisely what Saul Bellow does in this book !There is no patronizing in the words, no hollow advise on quick fixes you need to follow to discover the meaning of life. There is however a series of nerve wracking ordeals through which the guinea pig of a character named Eugene Henderson has to go through. Eugene is the oddball scion of an illustrious American family which counts State Secretaries, Scientists, Scholars & Lunatics among wealth and a solid ancestry. Eugene however is a totally different beast altogether, he is from rind to core a mass of confusion.When confronted with situations or emotions that threaten to get the better of him, he reacts in the only way best known to him : violence. He tries to find an inner meaning & solace in a lot of totally unconnected areas : Music, Sex, Soldiering, Alcohol, Farming but each tend to be a bigger disaster than the one preceding it. Eugene to me was very much akin to what a gorilla would have been in a glass factory. Leaving behind such a trail of shattered things, he escapes to Africa. It is among two of the most isolated of tribes : The Arnewi & The Wariri that the rest of his life story is penned.One amusing character I found in the tale was of King Dahfu of the Wariri. Eugene's interactions with the King give way to some of the most mind boggling & quote worthy prose in the book. The eccentric intelligence of the King rubs off on Eugene and the first tentative roots of transformation take hold in his character. Of significant presence for the principal protagonist is also the prophecy of Daniel on Nebuchadnezzar for at all phases in life, Eugene is closely linked to the lives of animals around him. The prose is extremly powerful and moving. While retaining the touch of a master wordsmith, Bellow creates extremely witty monologues especially in the earlier half of the book. This is easily a favorite for me !

Share your thoughts

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *