Mr. Artur Sammler, Holocaust survivor, intellectual, and occasional lecturer at Columbia University in 1960s New York City, is a “registrar of madness,” a refined and civilized being caught among people crazy with the promises of the future (moon landings, endless possibilities). His Cyclopean gaze reflects on the degradations of city life while looking deep into the sufferings of the human soul. “Sorry for all and sore at heart,” he observes how greater luxury and leisure have only led to more human suffering. To Mr. Sammlerwho by the end of this ferociously unsentimental novel has found the compassionate consciousness necessary to bridge the gap between himself and his fellow beingsa good life is one in which a person does what is “required of him.” To know and to meet the “terms of the contract” was as true a life as one could live. At its heart, this novel is quintessential Bellow: moral, urbane, sublimely humane.
In this book, Bellow has succeeded in doing something he never quite managed before--or at least not quite so successfully. He has created a character who embodies his ideas, who serves, in fact, as his spokesman, yet remains convincing in his own right. Sammler is more than the sum of Bellow's parts. Where Augie March, Henderson and Herzog were brilliant, Sammler is brilliantly human.