The Human Comedy

In My Book Club Books on July 26, 2013 at 9:39 pm


July, 2013 Book Club Selection

Title: The Human Comedy

Author: William Saroyan

Genre: Novel

Pages: 192

Publication Date: February, 1943

Publisher Blurb:

The place is Ithaca, in California’s San Joaquin Valley. The time is World War II. The family is the Macauley’s—a mother, sister, and three brothers whose struggles and dreams reflect those of America’s second-generation immigrants…In particular, fourteen-year-old Homer, determined to become one of the fastest telegraph messengers in the West, finds himself caught between reality and illusion as delivering his messages of wartime death, love, and money brings him face-to-face with human emotion at its most naked and raw. Gentle, poignant and richly autobiographical, this delightful novel shows us the boy becoming the man in a world that even in the midst of war, appears sweeter, safer and more livable than out own.

My Thoughts:

There really isn’t a plot, per se. It is more like a series events in the Macauley family, a slice of life in a small town in America during World War II. The family lost the father three years ago, the oldest son is a soldier the war, and then there is Homer, his sister Bess, and his little brother Ulysses, who is quite the observer of life. There are 39 chapters, each with its own special story and each memorable on its own merits. Most of them involve Homer and his trials and tribulations at school, at home, and in his job. Some of the lighter ones involve his little brother, and some involve his life at school. His job brings him into contact with the elderly Mr. Grogan, an alcoholic by reason of pain who refuses to retire from his job since it’s the only world he knows and Mr. Spangler, who spends his days off in the company of his bride to be Diana Steed. Both are uncommonly good men and serve as his mentors, along with his family members and one of his teachers, in terms of teaching him the importance of hard work and integrity.

I really liked Mr. Spangler and Miss Hicks, but my favorite character is the main character, Homer. One of my favorite scenes involved Homer answering his ancient history teacher’s question about what have we learned. Homer answered with an impromptu speech about the human nose. It was very clever and very funny. He also touched my heart when he was telling Mr. Grogan that he wanted to grow up and do something decent. “I don’t like the way things are, Mr. Grogan. I don’t know why, but I want them to be better. I guess it’s because I think they ought to be better.Then there was Ulysses. He provided many light-hearted moments in this story, one involving a most unique animal trap. Other characters also invoked strong feelings: Miss Hicks and Mr. Spangler, because they were such compassionate, caring, no-nonsense people, and Coach Byfield, because his actions were so despicable.Then there was the letter from Marcus to Homer. It packed a punch on so many different levels.

In addition to the characters and events in the book, I appreciated his use of language and the depth of the themes in his book. This book definitely deserves the praise that is one of the most important novels of the the Twentieth Century.

Additional Book Club Discussion: We talked about the Armenian background of the author and details of his life that are reflected in the book.

Some of My Favorite Quotes:

“I never knew teachers are human beings like everybody else– and better too!”

“I didn’t know anything until I got this job. I knew a lot of things, but I didn’t know the half of it, and maybe I never will, either. Maybe nobody ever will. If anybody should, though,

I should. I want to know, and I’ll always want to know, and I guess I’ll always keep trying, but how can you ever know? How can any man ever really get it all straight so that it makes sense?”

“Lionel whispered because he was under the impression that it was out of respect for books, not consideration for readers.”

“I’m not going to try to comfort you,” he said. “I know I can’t. Nothing can. But try to remember that a good man can never die.You will see your brother many times again – in the streets, at home, in all the places of the town. The person of man may go, but he best part of hims stays. It stays forever.”

Other Opinions/Related Links

Book Club Dinner Menu for The Human Comedy

Carol hosted the event, which was an Armenian inspired dinner in honor of the author.

Appetizers served with Armenian Kiss Martini’s-armenian-kiss-martini/

Hummus and gluten-free tabuleh with pita bread

Chicken cilicia fillos

Main Course
Armenian tomato salad
Armenian pilaf
Lamb shish kabob
Fruit salad




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