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Hyde Park, Chicago: Ravelstein by Saul Bellow
Paris: Flowers of Ruin and Suspended Sentences by Patrick Modiano
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Dublin: The Dead by James Joyce
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Santa Cruz, Bolivia: The Matter of Desire (Materia del Deseo) by Edmundo Paz Soldán
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Djibouti: Passage of Tears (Passage des Larmes) by Abdourahman Waberi
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Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso: The Parachute Drop by Norbert Zongo
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Périgord, France: The Caves of Périgord by Martin Walker
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Naples: The Neapolitan Novels by Elena Ferrante
Books, Movies and Beyond: Rio de Janeiro
Tajikistan: Hurramabad by Andrei Volos
New-York: City on Fire by Garth Risk Hallberg
Israel and Palestine: To the End of the Land by David Grossman and Wild Thorns by Sahar Khalifeh
Books, Movies and Beyond: Bavaria and Southern Germany
Cape Town: Boyhood, Youth and Summertime by J.M. Coetzee
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Blue Ridge Mountains: Cold Mountain by Charles Frazier
Books, Movies and Beyond: Algeria
Austrian Alps: A Whole Life (Ein ganzes Leben) by Robert Seethaler
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Zimbabwe: The Last Resort by Douglas Rogers
Books, Movies and Beyond: Colombia
Belgian Ardennes: The All Saints’ Day Lovers by Juan Gabriel Vásquez
Côte d’Ivoire: Aya of Yop City by Marguerite Abouet and Clément Oubrerie
Japan: Haruki Murakami and Amélie Nothomb
Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York: The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt and The Rope and The Denial of Saint Peter by Charles Baudelaire
Books, Movies and Beyond: Cairo
Vancouver: What is Remembered by Alice Munro
Ghent (Belgium): War and Turpentine by Stefan Hertmans
Haiti: An Aroma of Coffee and Dining with the Dictator by Dany Laferrière and The Comedians by Graham Greene
Iceland: Jar City by Arnaldur Indriðason
Siena and Tuscany : Il Palio delle contrade morte by Fruttero & Lucentini and The English Patient by Michael Ondaatje
China : Wild Swans. Three Daughters of China, by Jung Chang
Amsterdam: The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton
Père Lachaise Cemetery, Paris
Former Soviet Union: The Unwomanly Face of War  by Svetlana Alexievich
Provence: The Horseman on the Roof by Jean Giono, La charrette bleue by René Barjavel, Madame de Sévigné and Ventoux by Bert Wagendorp
Moscow: The House of Government by Yuri Slezkine, The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov and Limonov by Emmanuel Carrère
Books, Movies and Beyond: Vietnam
Books, Movies and Beyond: The Wars in Vietnam

Hyde Park, Chicago: Ravelstein by Saul Bellow

“You don’t easily give up a creature like Ravelstein to death.”

That’s the final line of Saul Bellow’s eponymous novel.


I was a student at the University of Chicago in Hyde Park in the South Side of the city, when the book was published in 2000 and created a stirring controversy. Ravelstein’s character was clearly inspired by literary critic Alan Bloom, Bellow’s colleague on the « Committee of Social Thought » at the University. The book revealed Bloom’s homosexuality and AIDS, which had not been public knowledge while he was alive.


Saul Bellow

Bellow’s novel describes Hyde Park without naming it. But we recognize Lake Michigan’s shore, the parakeets roving freely in the trees and the early snows in the fall. I was recently in Hyde Park to celebrate the memory of another giant of social sciences, the economist Gary Becker. When, together with all his former students in attendance, we went out for a souvenir picture, light snow flakes were falling on this late October morning.

University of Chicago Professor Gary Becker who teaches economics and sociology poses for a portrait in his office, Tuesday, Nov. 1, 2005, in Chicago. Becker has been educating students at the U of C for over thirty years.(AP Photo/Joshua Lott)

Gary Becker

I was transported more than ten years back.  Remembering the hours spent in the library, trying to solve the weekly problem sets imposed by Becker for his Price Theory class. The library was probably the ugliest building on a campus known for its neo-gothic charm. It was built next to the site where the first controlled nuclear reaction took place in 1942. The doors were closing at 1am at which time our study group was far from having found a solution to the problem sets.  In that group, I was the most at loss. Those were hours marked by failure and doubts.



A few years later, Becker was now my thesis director and patience and perseverance from my end, together with his qualities as a mentor, gave me more promising perspectives.

Ravelstein’s character in Bellow’s brilliant depiction is a towering figure, enjoying the high life in Chicago or in Parisian palaces, surrounded by a court of disciples among which he did not hesitate to suggest romantic matches.

Becker, one of the most prestigious names in social sciences was the opposite. Encouraging, full of attention, he always had time for his students.  I remember his invitations to join him for lunch at the Faculty Club » with the speakers of the weekly seminar he was organizing. Or the annual dinner he gave each year for this seminar’s participants.  One anecdote from Iván Werning, the teaching assistant who was grading our problem sets, will give an idea of the atmosphere and the person: invited for dinner for the first time by the Beckers, he would let fall the wine bottle he had brought on the house’s front patio. The wine splashed everywhere, including on the Nobel Laureate’s pants. Ashamed, he wanted to disappear. But Gary Becker went in the house to find something to soak the wine and collect the broken glass, while his wife Guity welcomed their guest and made him comfortable.

13 Oct 1992, Chicago, Illinois, USA --- Economist and Sociologist Gary Becker at Home --- Image by © Ralf-Finn Hestoft/CORBIS

13 Oct 1992, Chicago, Illinois, USA — Economist and Sociologist Gary Becker at Home — Image by © Ralf-Finn Hestoft/CORBIS


2 Replies to “Hyde Park, Chicago: Ravelstein by Saul Bellow”

  1. But when Herzog — his 1965 National Book Award winner about a floundering academic from Montreal who goes through divorce and lands in Hyde Park — became a best-seller, Bellow bought a condo across from Promontory Point.

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