Print this page


David Turshyan, Librarian, International Languages Department,

In Truman Capote’s Breakfast at Tiffany’s, Holly Golightly confides to her friend a seemingly unimportant incident – she has met with a writer who did not look as old as she would have expected him to be. “In fact… if he’d give himself a closer shave…” muses Holly and soon changes the subject.

William Saroyan. At the time Capote’s novella was published, Saroyan was only half a century old, but his name had already become an adjective – Saroyanesque – which characterized spontaneity, a childlike sweetness, unexpected kindness, the evocation of loneliness, gentle humor, wisdom, and the innate curiosity to unveil beauty in people and the world around.

One of Saroyan’s novels – The Human Comedy – opens with a little boy, Ulysses, who is only three or four, waving to strangers in the passing by train. The train was soon gone. “Then Ulysses looked around. There it was, all around him, funny and lonely – the world of his life. The strange, weed-infested, junky, wonderful, senseless yet beautiful world.

When Saroyan was at the age of Ulysses, his father passed away, and the next few years, along with his siblings, he spent in an orphanage, until the mother reunited the family. While at school at the age of eight, Saroyan started selling newspapers on the streets of Fresno to help the family, for the “family was living in the most amazing and comical poverty in the world,” as years later he would describe in the short story “The Summer of the Beautiful White Horse.”

Saroyan’s first book was The Daring Young Man on the Flying Trapeze, and Other Stories. During his long career, he wrote hundreds of short stories, plays, novels, essays and memoirs. The International Languages department and the sister branch libraries house the translations of Saroyan’s works in Armenian, French, German, Greek, Japanese, Korean, Persian, Polish, Russian and Vietnamese.

“What a piece of work is a man” is a central Shakespearean question to define human nature. “Remember,” Saroyan will write a few centuries later in The Time of Your Life, “every man is a variation of yourself. No man's guilt is not yours, nor is any man's innocence a thing apart… In the time of your life, live – so that in that wondrous time you shall not add to the misery and sorrow of the world, but shall smile to the infinite delight and mystery of it.”