Ham on Rye by Charles Bukowski

Bukowski, Charles. (1982, 2002). Ham on Rye. Ecco; New York. 

Despite finding this book a charismatic and engrossing read, I did not like it. A coming-of-age tale about the young protagonist, Henry Chinaski, it describes every possible dirty and detestable feature of life. References to shit are constant; Henry breaks out in full-body acne/boils which grow as big as acorns; he drinks and lives in perpetual squalor.

This book undoubtedly has some grains of wisdom to offer readers. I found myself sympathizing with Henry’s alienation to some degree. Every young person feels themselves to be against their parents and disliked by people their own age. There are also some social and political commentaries in the book (see also Bukowski Quotes, 2012):

“So, that’s what they wanted: lies. Beautiful lies. That’s what they needed. People were fools. It was going to be easy for me” (Bukowski, 1982)

“They experimented on the poor and if that worked they used the treatment on the rich. And if it didn’t work, there would still be more poor left over to experiment upon” (Bukowski, 1982)

For the most part, however, Ham on Rye is a read that elicits as many feelings of disgust as it does of enjoyment. To be read as an ‘experience’ only!


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