Seize the Day – Saul Bellow

Seize the Day is American author Saul Bellow’s novel that was published in 1956. And it is my first time reading him. I expected so much from the author, who has a great place in American literature, that I was a little disappointed in Seize the Day. I couldn’t find that depth or humour mentioned.


Seize the Day is about one of Tommy Wilhelm’s bad days. We listen to his troubled relationship with his father, all the wrong choices he made, the disconnection he has with his wife and children, and all his whining while trying to make money. Ah, yes, he is struggling to understand his own worth and his place in the world.

Seize the Day - Saul Bellow

Tommy Wilhelm is not a character to love effortlessly; it is not easy to find a piece of yourself in him. Therefore, while watching what he went through from afar and getting bored on the one hand, I thought, “Get it together, man”. Still, I continued to read the book. To be honest, it was because it is short; If it was a thick book, I’m not sure if I would have continued to read it. I realized that it was well written but left me with nothing of note when I finished it. Did I really read Bellow, one of the giants and backbones of American literature?

I’ve been wondering if all these years have affected my thoughts about Seize the Day. Maybe if I had read it as an American when it first came out in 1956, my thoughts might have been very different. However, there are so many books written years ago that still manage to impress people; I thought about why Seize the Day didn’t affect me like that. Maybe Seize the Day isn’t all that remarkable next to the author’s books Herzog and The Adventures of Augie March. I think I can find the answer if I want to reread Saul Bellow after many years. What do you think?

Seize the Day - Saul Bellow

Seize the Day

Seize the Day: Fading charmer Tommy Wilhelm has reached his day of reckoning and is scared. In his forties, he still retains a boyish impetuousness that has brought him to the brink of chaos: he is separated from his wife and children, at odds with his vain, successful father, failed in his acting career (a Hollywood agent once placed him as ‘the type that loses the girl’) and in a financial mess. In the course of one climactic day he reviews his past mistakes and spiritual malaise, until a mysterious, philosophizing con man grants him a glorious, illuminating moment of truth and understanding, and offers him one last hope. 

Seize the Day. What makes all of this so remarkable is not merely Bellow’s eye and ear for vital detail. Nor is it his talent for exposing the innards of character in a paragraph, a sentence, a phrase. It is Bellow’s vision, his uncanny ability to seize the moment and to see beyond it.” —Chicago Sun-Times

“InSeize the Day, Bellow argues the tranquil decencies of truth and compassion.” —The Times (London)

“Bellow seems more suited by temperament and ability than any writer of his generation to create for America ‘the uncreated conscience’ of modern man.” —The New Republic

Seize the Day is one of the finest short novels in the language, marvelously compact, dense, and alive.” —The Guardian

Saul Bellow

Saul Bellow, (born June 10, 1915, Lachine, near Montreal, Quebec, Canada—died April 5, 2005, Brookline, Massachusetts, U.S.), American novelist whose characterizations of modern urban man, disaffected by society but not destroyed in spirit, earned him the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1976. Brought up in a Jewish household and fluent in Yiddish—which influenced his energetic English style—he was representative of the Jewish American writers whose works became central to American literature after World War II.

Bellow’s parents emigrated in 1913 from Russia to Montreal. When he was nine they moved to Chicago. He attended the University of Chicago and Northwestern University (B.S., 1937) and afterward combined writing with a teaching career at various universities, including the University of Minnesota, Princeton University, New York University, Bard College, the University of Chicago, and Boston University.

Bellow won a reputation among a small group of readers with his first two novels, Dangling Man (1944), a story in diary form of a man waiting to be inducted into the army, and The Victim (1947), a subtle study of the relationship between a Jew and a Gentile, each of whom becomes the other’s victim.

Seize the Day - Saul Bellow

The Adventures of Augie March (1953) brought wider acclaim and won a National Book Award (1954). It is a picaresque story of a poor Jewish youth from Chicago, his progress—sometimes highly comic—through the world of the 20th century, and his attempts to make sense of it. In this novel Bellow employed for the first time a loose, breezy style in conscious revolt against the preoccupation of writers of that time with perfection of form.

Henderson the Rain King (1959) continued the picaresque approach in its tale of an eccentric American millionaire on a quest in Africa. Seize the Day (1956), a novella, is a unique treatment of a failure in a society where the only success is success. He also wrote a volume of short stories, Mosby’s Memoirs (1968), and To Jerusalem and Back (1976) about a trip to Israel.

In his later novels and novellas—Herzog (1964; National Book Award, 1965), Mr. Sammler’s Planet (1970; National Book Award, 1971), Humboldt’s Gift (1975; Pulitzer Prize, 1976), The Dean’s December (1982), More Die of Heartbreak (1987), A Theft (1989), The Bellarosa Connection (1989), and The Actual (1997)—Bellow arrived at his most characteristic vein. The heroes of these works are often Jewish intellectuals whose interior monologues range from the sublime to the absurd.

At the same time, their surrounding world, peopled by energetic and incorrigible realists, acts as a corrective to their intellectual speculations. It is this combination of cultural sophistication and the wisdom of the streets that constitutes Bellow’s greatest originality. In Ravelstein (2000) he presented a fictional version of the life of teacher and philosopher Allan Bloom. Five years after Bellow’s death, more than 700 of his letters, edited by Benjamin Taylor, were published in Saul Bellow: Letters (2010).

Reading this book contributed to these challenges: 

Read Around the World, A Great Journey

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