The Dean’s December

ISBN: 0140189130
ISBN 13: 9780140189131
By: Saul Bellow

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About this book

Albert Corde, dean of a Chicago college, is unprepared for the violent response to his expose of city corruption. Accused of betraying his city, as well as being a racist, he journeys to Bucharest, where his mother-in-law lies dying, only to find corruption rife in the Communist capital. Switching back and forth between the two cities, The Dean's December represents Bellow's "most spirited resistance to the forces of our time" (Malcolm Bradbury).

Reader's Thoughts

Jaclyn

Albert Corde is not exactly a self-made man; he comes from a wealthy Chicago family - as his old friend, Dewey Spangler, couldn't fail to notice, Corde's father drove a Packard. But even if Corde isn't a self-made man, he did make himself into a world-reknowned journalist. And then he unmade himself. Deciding he'd had enough of current events, he returned to Chicago and took on a position as a professor, and later Dean of Students, at a local university. He married a brilliant astronomer and settled down to further his education and live a quiet life. But circumstances have a way of interrupting, and Corde eventually found himself at the center of two maelstroms, at least in part of his own creation. He wrote two articles for Harper's on the racial politics that were destroying his city - the slums, the corruption, the hideously graphic violence of the Cook County Jail. His articles struck a nerve with the powers that be in Chicago government and at the university - and while no one could do anything to him, exactly, the atmosphere was tense. And on top of that, Corde became involved in the trial of a local ne'er-do-well for the slaying of a married graduate student at the university. Corde identified the body (as Dean of Students, it was his responsibility). He took the slain student's stricken wife under his wing, offered a reward for information leading to the capture of the killers, and was a fixture at the trial. Corde's involvement in the trial embarrassed the university - especially when circumstances (again, those darn circumstances) shook down such that the accused murderer was a friend of Corde's nephew Mason (and Mason was himself given to threatening witnesses), and Corde's cousin Max was the defense lawyer.With all these tribulations at home, Corde's mother-in-law is dying in Rumania. He accompanies his wife, Minna, to "the old country," to bid farewell to her mother. Dr. Valeria Raresh was once a dedicated Communist Party member - but she, like Corde, has fallen from grace, having left the Party and sent her daughter Minna to America. Now, as Valeria lies on her deathbed, the Party officials are determined to punish Minna for her emigration and her mother's defection. Corde is helpless as he and Minna try to navigate the Rumanian beaurocracy and visit Valeria as she lies dying in the hospital. As he waits - oh, yes, there is interminable waiting involved in this process - Corde reflects on the mess he's left behind in Chicago and on the deep-seated reasons for his own fall from grace.The Dean's December is not a plot-driven book, and neither are there particularly compelling characters. (I'd have liked to know more about Minna and Tanti Gigi, but Corde himself was not particularly sympathetic, nor were his friends and relations.) To appreciate The Dean's December, you've got to appreciate the raw and wrenching writing. Saul Bellow's prose is something like a punch in the face - sharp and surprising. But still, you can enjoy the writing if you make the mental space for it. I found that I was not liking The Dean's December at all when I tried to read it in bits, here and there, during the cacophany of lunchtime at a client site. It was when I settled in for a weekend afternoon, in the silence of my house, that I was able to allow Bellow's prose to really work its magic on me, and then I was amazed. I read a review (here? or somewhere else) that said that The Dean's December is a "quiet book," and it was. It was quiet in that there wasn't much action - or even, during certain chapters, much dialogue - it was reflective. And it was also quiet in that it demanded quiet, attention, focus, and only yielded up its considerable gifts when you were devoted to delving into the text and extracting them for yourself.For example, here's a passage I like, from when the Dean reflects on a visit he paid to a Public Defender in the course of researching his Harper's articles:Anguish beyond the bounds of human tolerance was not a subject a nice man like Mr. Varennes was ready for on an ordinary day. But I (damn!), starting to collect material for a review of life in my native city, and finding at once wounds, lesions, cancers, destructive fury, death, felt (and how quirkily) called upon for a special exertion - to interpret, to pity, to save! This was stupid. It was insane. But now the process was begun, how was I to stop it? I couldn't stop it.Zing. No, Corde couldn't stop. He was compelled to go forward and tell the truth that no one really wanted to hear, and of course they didn't like it once it was told. And as he sat in Minna's old room in Rumania, reflecting on the strange conflict that he had created, Corde was able to see Chicago's psyche as America's psyche, and to explain how different it was back home from the world behind the Iron Curtain:"What was the lesson? Well, they set the pain level for you over here. The government has the power to set it. Everybody has to understand this monopoly and be prepared to accept it. At home, in the West, it's different. America is never going to take an open position on the pain level, because it's a pleasure society, a pleasure society which likes to think of itself as a tenderness society. A tender liberal society has to find soft ways to institutionalize harshness and smooth it over with progress, buoyancy. So that with us when people are merciless, when they kill, we explain that it's because they're disadvantaged, or have lead poisoning, or come from a backward section of the country, or need psychological treatment..."The prose is really extraordinary. It's harsh and terse and jumpy, but elegant. (And to read it, you have to have a certain tolerance for strong language and violence. It's not my cup of tea, but I'm willing to trust an author as celebrated as Bellow. Just a warning to those who aren't - steer clear.) One more passage I like, then I promise I'll stop. When {spoiler alert, but it's clear from the start that it was bound to happen} Valeria dies, her old friends come out of the woodwork for the funeral. And their presence is both a comfort and a rebuke to Minna, the one that got away:They came... well, they had their reasons. They were there to signify, to testify. They came also to remind Minna of their existence. "Yes, we're still here, in case you wondered, and we could tell you plenty. And your mother, she got you away, and it was one of her great successes. Good for you. And for her. Now it's over for her, and soon for us, too. And this is what turns us out, in this gloom."No, The Dean's December isn't easy. It demands that you think, and check your expectations at the door, and read with care. I think it's good to read difficult books. I don't read them in succession, most of the time. But it helps to read a book that makes you struggle and work a little bit. If you're willing to make the effort, The Dean's December will deliver. Recommended.

Bookaholic

Iarna decanului nu e o carte uşoară. Nu aş recomanda-o ca lectură de vacanţă decât în cazul unui scenariu mai izolat, de plecat prin munţi şi rupt legăturile cotidiene cu lumea – caz în care cartea îţi va confirma că nu puteai face o alegere mai bună decât să te retragi un pic.Decanul este chiar Saul Bellow, iar iarna cea a anului 1977, când scriitorul american vine în România, împreună cu soţia sa Alexandra, reputat om de ştiinţă în State, fiica profesorului Dumitru Bagdasar (cel care a creat şcoala română de neurochirurgie) și a doctoriței Florica Bagdasar. Vizita are un motiv cel puţin trist: mama Alexandrei (în roman Alexandra este Mina, iar mama ei Valeria) moare la spitalul Elias, iar perioada petrecută de soţii Bellow (în roman Corde) la Bucureşti vine la pachet cu privaţiunile, absurditatea şi atmosfera sinistră/comunistă. (cronică: http://bookaholic.ro/iarna-decanului-...)

David

I did like this book, but I think I preferred "The Victim." This one just didn't pull me in as much, didn't grab my interest in the same way. I'm not sure why. The characters were good. The storyline was well put together and the way that the two main lines are interwoven was masterfully done. I got a bit sick of the pedantic talk from time to time, but it was in keeping with the character. Regardless, I just didn't get as into it as I hoped I would.

Kelly

I may have liked this more had I not read it on the heels of Algren's The Man with the Golden Arm. After Algren, this book was very old fashioned and slow. I found the character of Albert Corde unlikable and I got to a point where I just didn't care what happened to him.

Lauren

description of romania behind the iron curtain: good. creepy analysis of urban chicago in the 70s: bad. plus the dean is so unloveable.

Fewlas

Il dicembre del professore/decano/giornalista Corde viaggia su due binari paralleli, uno verso Bucarest, l’altro verso Chicago. Treni che non si incontrano mai, ma che effettuano le medesime fermate: l’incontro con la morte, la corruzione, il desiderio di sublimazione tramite la poesia, la necessità di ritornare alla verità vera, svegliandosi da quell’anestesia indottaci, come diceva Mcluhan, dai media con il loro ago ipodermico.È un dicembre di continue tensioni: tra le sozzure di una Chicago corrotta e violenta, e la povertà e le difficoltà di una Bucarest in pieno regime comunista, dove Corde si reca con la moglie per assistere la suocera in fin di vita (anche se, proprio a causa della prepotenza degli ufficiali e della securitate, questo non sarà un compito affatto semplice). Tra il gelo della stanza in cui Corde si trova a ripensare a tutta la sua vita, al caldo fumoso della camera crematoria. Tra il Corde riflessivo e poetico, che desidera un incontro con l’essenza vera dell’esistenza, al Corde combattivo, invischiato in un processo. Non avevo lasciato presagire in alcun modo, io, la mia distruttività. Tanto pensoso, dolce, ecco il mio tipo: un ruminatore. Poi, d’un tratto, vien fuori che sono uno di quegli uomini eccessivi, senza un termostato interno. Viene condannato per i suoi reportage, per aver sentito il desiderio di recuperare il mondo sepolto sotto le macerie della falsa descrizione o della non-esistenza . Ma si rende conto di quanto tutto ciò sia impossibile, sia che si tenti di farlo in un regime, sia che ci si provi con una finta democrazia.Mi risulta molto difficile comprimere questo libro in poche righe. Bellow è un vero maestro. Se mi capitasse di incontrare il genio della lampada i miei tre desideri sarebbero: 1. Fai rinascere Bellow; 2. Dammi la capacità di scrivere come Bellow; 3. Digli che gli lascio il mio terzo desiderio, così con la sua saggezza e bravura ne ricaverà qualcosa di eccezionale.Se non avete ancora letto niente di lui, non vi consiglio di cominciare con questo. È bellissimo, intendiamoci, ma un po’ pesante, vista la mole di materia umana che vi viene trattata. Ma è comunque un must. Non se ne può fare a meno.

Danielle

There was so much going on in this novel. From the depths of intimate relationships through to the down right concrete reality of life across continents. The strict Reich juxtaposed against the mamby-pamby American.

May

Saul Bellow is a bad-a$$ writer precisely because he can take a storyline a little done by new millennium standards and make it soo very amazingly readable. I don't think I liked either the storyline or the characters and yet I had to respect the writer while reading it. His way of describing and explaining people, their nuances, and the such. The characters are real and the entire story very believable. Bravo!

Paul Simon Grimsley

This is gentle and somewhat sedate but every thing that happens in it resonates -- I suppose some people must play a billion notes to enthrall you and some can play a few carefully placed harmonies and seduce you with their fictional worlds.

Lorenzo Berardi

This is my favourite novel by Bellow.I've read it while I was at the university instead of studying to pass brilliantly one of the fundamental exams on semiotic we had.I think I've done a good choice.Bellow abandons Chicago and the US for a while in The Dean's December making a vivid and powerful portrait of Romania during the most difficult years of its isolation behind the Iron Curtain. It doesn't seem a description which aims to criticize or demonize communism. This novel looks like an objective view on a foreign land, on a different planet.Bellow has never been so focused on a concrete, tangible and specific plot, without renouncing to his elegance in writing.

Nick

I'm sad to say that I didn't enjoy this book. Saul Bellow is one of my favorite authors but I was very disappointed how the book progressed (it was very boring with no "oomph" like in his books Herzog and The Adventures of Augie March). I am looking forward to reading Henderson the Rain King in the near future though.

steve

I still don't know if I like Saul Bellow or not, but I read him anyway because I like identifying with characters. This one is about a guy from Chicago whose wife is Romanian. I'm from Chicago and my girlfriend is Slovenian. So that's pretty much why I liked this book. And no, Slovenia is not where they made "Hostel", that was Slovakia. And it's not where they filmed "Borat" either, that was actually Romania.

Phillip

This is the weakest of Bellow's novels that I have read. It really isn't a novel at all. The Dean is called in about the criminal death of one of his students. The book is more of a dialog or extended reflection than a story.

Tyler

Bellow’s reputation as a remarkable prose stylist shows here in the way he uses detail to foreshadow. The heightened use of contrast, too, sets the book apart from his other novels; the story itself follows the same template used for Bellow's other novels – the lives of the urban, upper class and educated. What's different this time is a striking aspect of the protagonist here: an ability to express the utter devastation of life in the American underclass. The unflinching exploration of class in America sets this book apart from his others.

Andra

Printre alte lucruri, un nene care gandeste prea mult face o paralela extrem de subiectiva intre Bucurestiul si Chicago-ul anilor 70. Concluzia: si estul, si vestul, si in general cam toata planeta se cam duc dracului.

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