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Mr. Sammler’s Planet

By Saul Bellow

Original Publisher: Viking Press
Current Publisher: Penguin Classics

Craig Morgan Teicher writes:

He was aware that he must meet, and he did meetthrough all the confusion and degraded clowning of this life through which we are speeding—he did meet the terms of his contract. The terms which, in his inmost heart, each man knows. As I know mine. As we all know. For that is the truth of itthat we all know, God, that we know, that we know, we know, we know.

I'm not spoiling the plot of this incomparable novel by sharing with you the words with which it ends, spoken by Artur Sammler over the body of his just-deceased nephew. They are an instance of poetry—language that sends its reader backward, into her or himself, back in time, toward a place none of us remembers but that we all recognize, before we had any words to speak with—in a near perfect narrative of loss and how it is the current carrying life forward.

I haven't been the same since I first read the words above, and I keep coming back to them to remind me of what I want from writing and from reading: to remember that I know already all I hope to know, that I seek only to be reminded, that all the rules were plain from the beginning, if too plain, too obvious to articulate.

It's impossible not to see a bit of oneself in Artur Sammler, a Holocaust survivor living out the end of his life—he's in his 70s when we meet him—uptown in New York City, where the subways are intolerable and the buses only a bit better, until a confrontation with a pickpocket makes the buses impossible as well.He lives with his grown daughter, an eccentric, irresponsible, unmarried woman, and tries to find what good he can in a world that has more than proved its evil.

It's impossible, too, not to recognize how alone Sammler is, and how his aloneness is something we all have in common. A book like this—and it's a narrow shelf indeed that can hold it and its small company—may be the only way we can share that deep solitude.

Craig Morgan Teicher, whose first book of poems is Brenda Is in the Room and Other Poems, is the poetry reviews editor for Publishers Weekly, a member of the board of the National Book Critics Circle, and a freelance critic.


ISBN: 9780142437834

Fiction Finalists that Year:

  • James Dickey for Deliverance
  • Shirley Hazzard for The Bay of Noon
  • John Updike for Bech: A Book
  • Eudora Welty for Losing Battles

Fiction Judges that Year: John Cheever, Maurice Dolbier, John Leonard, Marya Mannes, William Styron

The Year in Literature:

  • The Pulitzer Prize was not given for Fiction.
  • Pablo Neruda won the Nobel Prize for Literature.

More Information:

  • Saul Bellow was born Solomon Bello in Lachine, Quebec, two years after his parents emigrated from Saint Petersburg, Russia.
  • This 1971 honor was Saul Bellow’s third and final National Book Award, but he still had yet to win the Nobel Prize for Literature, which he did in 1976.

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