Skip to main content
PBS logo
Want fewer ads?

Book Reviews of Ham on Rye

Ham on Rye
Ham on Rye
Author: Charles Bukowski
ISBN-13: 9780876855577
ISBN-10: 0876855575
Publication Date: 9/1982
Pages: 304
  • Currently 4.4/5 Stars.

4.4 stars, based on 39 ratings
Publisher: Ecco
Book Type: Paperback
Reviews: Amazon | Write a Review

6 Book Reviews submitted by our Members...sorted by voted most helpful

reviewed Ham on Rye on + 8 more book reviews
A lonely boy born in the 1920's has a harsh upbringing. Bukowski is an extraordinary writer. Truth is not sugarcoated.
reviewed Ham on Rye on + 27 more book reviews
Bukowski's early years.
reviewed Ham on Rye on + 10 more book reviews
Absolutely wonderful book - I couldn't put it down and is definitely one of my favorites of all time. Same narrative feel as Catcher in the Rye.
reviewed Ham on Rye on + 18 more book reviews
My favorite of Bukowski's books.
reviewed Ham on Rye on + 2 more book reviews
what an asshole.
terez93 avatar reviewed Ham on Rye on + 140 more book reviews
Lots of people seemingly have things in common with Bukowski, and, my God, that's a tragic thing. What's the takeaway here? Poverty is a terminal disease. At least in this one, there's no escaping it. This is a coming-of-age tale that would put Dickens's unfortunate characters to shame, or maybe it's just more reflective of real life than fiction.

For Henry (Jr.), who was born in Germany but emigrated to the US as a young child, there wasn't really an Interwar period, either, as his formative years were spent in a state that could be described as nothing less than a war zone, first falling under the dominion of a brutal father who took sadistic pleasure in abusing him (from which he took the occasional time out to beat Hank's mother as well), to the mean streets of Los Angeles, a nascent powerhouse experiencing its own sense of teen angst, where friends weren't really even friends. Every day demanded a blood sacrifice of some sort, in a violent struggle for survival. As B. said, "the gods have really put a good shield over me, man. I've been toughened up at the right time and the right place," but that shield was not gained without price. As he also said, "you have to die a few times before you can really live." Henry was subjected to more trauma and violence before emerging from childhood than most people experience over the course of their entire lives, and it affected him greatly, as it did, I suspect, the author.

As such, at their core, Bukowski's novels are raw, bloody and violent, but they're also imbued with emotion and even sometimes passion, just often not in a healthy way. This one, clearly based on his own experiences, is perhaps the most superlative example. It's clear that his coping mechanism was his writing, a catharsis that probably saved his life on more than one occasion. More to the point: "Without literature, life is hell." I know it saved my father as well; maybe that's why I can relate to this material, and to B.'s style of writing, more than I care to admit. To that end, his books admittedly aren't necessarily all that enjoyable - reading them is like taking a good hard punch from someone wearing brass knuckles, but they are profound, and highly reflective of the hard-knocks life experienced by so many youth of that period, when it seemed that life itself had just simply become brutal.

The world unto which he offers a window is a dark and suffocatingly-inescapable one, not for the faint of heart, as some atrocity is always lurking around every corner. As such, reading B.'s work almost seems uncomfortably voyeuristic to me at times, for that reason, but I think he also captures perfectly the strength of the human spirit. It's important to acknowledge the suffering of the people who did survive this period and way of life, by attempting to, at least if just for a short time, see through their eyes, but it also reveals what kept them going, which is similarly valuable. As Nietzsche once remarked, someone with a "why" to live for can endure almost any "how."

------------Notable Passages------------
Words weren't dull, words were things that could make your mind hum. If you read them and let yourself feel the magic, you could live without pain, with hope, no matter what happened to you.

A truth first encountered can be very funny. When someone else's truth is the same as your truth, and he seems to be saying it just for you, that's great.
Want fewer ads?