Fellahin and Fleeing Trains

Three chapters into Saul Bellow’s The Victim, and I keep flicking back to read his opening paragraph:

On some nights New York is as hot as Bangkok. The whole continent seems to have moved from its place and slid nearer the equator, the bitter gray Atlantic to have become green and tropical, and the people, thronging the streets, barbaric fellahin among the stupendous monuments of their mystery, the lights of which, a dazing profusion, climb upwards endlessly into the heat of the sky.

I relish the barbaric fellahin, juxtaposed powerfully with the lit skyscrapers of New York. Bellow sets his scene economically, minimum words but maximum poetry. I love opening paragraphs, as much as I often dislike closing paragraphs.

There is one further line on this first page that is irresistible. It kept me sane during a dull, day long meeting. The protagonist, Asa Leventhal, almost misses his train stop, forcing his way out at the last moment.

The train fled, and Leventhal, breathing hard, stared after it, cursing, and then turned and descended to the street.

The fleeing train. ‘The train fled.’ In this, and other contexts, the verb choice is perfect.

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