Ilya Ehrenburg Saul Bellow - Essay

Saul Bellow

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Mr. Ehrenburg is not young, he has no novelty, his style [in "The Fall of Paris"] is patchy, full of borrowed odds and ends, his situations are unconvincing, his interpretations are programmatic and his characters are utterly dead. They are dead because Mr. Ehrenburg seems to have lost or surrendered his originality or the freedom without which it cannot exist. To inject life into his types he makes them "modern." He goes to Malraux, Aragon and Jules Romains for instruction and in the interest of objectivity he sometimes concedes that fascists and reactionaries have, after all, discernibly human motives and that Centrists and Rightists when they betray believe they are acting to save class and country. But this objectivity frequently falls away and we see Mr. Ehrenburg, red and panting, belaboring his enemies with all his might.

Even so, he does them a greater service than his friends, his most unlifelike creations. The (Communist) workers are good, they are pure, they alone in society are innocent….

His characterizations are matched by his politics and history. People belong to political parties, but the Communists are members of a sort of league for the promotion of human happiness. "Big simple happiness. How the people long for it," says Michaud, one of his heroes….

There is a paralysis of feeling in Ehrenburg's tone that persists even when he writes of the final catastrophe. Where events are most exciting he is still dull and repetitious. "The Fall of Paris" drags on to its gloomy end, disappointing to the last, and as doggedly counterfeit in Chapter 44 as in Chapter 1.

Saul Bellow, "Paris Falling," in The New Republic (reprinted by permission of The New Republic; © 1943 The New Republic, Inc.), Vol. 109, No. 11, September 13, 1943, p. 367.

[The Storm] is a political justification of Russian activities and attitudes in the Second World War. Characterization must therefore be limited to heroes (all the important Russian figures), villains (all the important Germans) and vacillators (most of the French). This kind of propaganda cannot easily be commented on as literature; it is possible, nevertheless, to admire the dexterity with which Mr. Ehrenburg parades his puppets, and his desperate attempts to twitch them into the semblance of life.

"Heroes and Dreams," in The Times Literary Supplement (© Times Newspapers Ltd. (London) 1949; reproduced from The Times Literary Supplement by permission), No. 2480, August 12, 1949, p. 517.∗