(Masterpieces of American Literature)

As Bellow had used the traditional, even old-fashioned narrative structure of the picaresque for his first major work, The Adventures of Augie March, so thirty years later the author shows his interest in more modern narrative forms. The Bellarosa Connection is an example of the so-called new journalism, in which real events and people are treated in broadly fictional ways. E. L. Doctorow, for example, had used such historical personalities as Harry Houdini, Henry Ford, and J. P. Morgan in the fictional tapestry of his Ragtime (1975).

In The Bellarosa Connection, Bellow creates a series of events based on the historic atrocity of the Holocaust during World War II. The action centers on Sorella Fonstein’s persistence in gaining an interview with impresario Billy Rose, who was responsible—through his anonymous underground railroad—for bringing a number of Jews to America as they escaped from the Nazis. Among those who were saved was Sorella’s husband, Harry. Fonstein is snubbed by Billy Rose (the European Jews had called their savior “Bellarosa”), but Sorella herself, with tigerlike tenacity, ultimately succeeds in confronting Billy and blackmailing him, through her knowledge of a scandal, into meeting with Harry.

Billy’s ignorance and crudity as a human being are portrayed with insight, for if human character is fraught with contradiction, then Billy’s character is contradiction personified....

(The entire section is 591 words.)


(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

One of Saul Bellow’s shorter works, The Bellarosa Connection tells the story of a wife’s persistence in gaining an interview with impresario Billy Rose, who was responsible—through his anonymous underground railroad—for saving from the Nazis a number of Jews, Harry Fonstein among them, by bringing them to America. The narrator, a distant relative of the Fonsteins, remembers being told Harry’s history.

Harry Fonstein has made his way to Italy in fleeing the Nazis, but in Rome, he is arrested and faces deportation to a concentration camp. A representative from the American impresario Billy Rose—whom the Italians called “Bellarosa”—arranges for Harry’s prison door to be left open and for him to be met by a car, given false papers, and put on a ship bound for America.

In New York, Harry learns English and studies refrigeration and heating. He sails to Havana and is employed as a “legman” tracking down other Jews whose surviving relatives are looking for them. A few years later, he meets Sorella, an American girl from New Jersey. Back in America, married to Sorella, Harry works hard, studies diligently, and becomes rich.

Harry harbors a desire to meet Billy Rose, his benefactor. For years, Harry had sent Billy numerous letters, but Rose had never acknowledged them. Harry had been turned aside at Billy’s office and had been snubbed by Rose in New York’s famous Sardi’s restaurant. Harry, though, had never given up his desire simply to thank his savior.

All this the narrator has recounted as prelude to his personal involvement with the Fonsteins. Himself now prosperous and on...

(The entire section is 675 words.)