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A last token of Bellow's affection is lost in the mail

Oh, give me something to remember you by, the old song says. In the case of Nobel laureate Saul Bellow, who died last month, something was given, but it was lost in the mail.

In 2003, Viking published the 50th anniversary edition of Bellow's classic ''The Adventures of Augie March." Late last year, the ailing novelist inscribed a copy to each of his three sons by earlier marriages and to his daughter by his widow. His sons are Gregory, 61; Adam, 48; and Daniel, 41. His daughter is Naomi Rose, 5.

He intended to present the books to his sons in person, according to his longtime secretary, Will Lautzenheiser. They remained at Bellow's Brookline home as his multiple ailments worsened. All three sons visited their father's home; only Adam was given his book. After Bellow died April 5 at age 89, Lautzenheiser realized the other two books were still in the house. He packed them in book mailers, addressed them to Gregory and Daniel, and sent them from the Brookline post office. The return address said simply ''Bellow," with the author's address.

Two days later, Daniel Bellow, assistant editorial page editor at the Berkshire Eagle, received a book mailer at his home in Great Barrington stamped in red ink, ''Received unsealed" and ''Received without contents." It was empty. The end flap was open.

Daniel Bellow said, ''We called the house and asked my stepmother [Janis], 'What was it?' She said, 'It's the book your father signed for you.' " In all the distractions of Saul Bellow's final illness, Daniel had never known about the book.

Lautzenheiser cannot remember Saul Bellow's exact inscription to his son but says it was something like, ''To Daniel, hoping that he gets everything he wants under the sun, from Pa."

Daniel Bellow's wife, Heather, went to the Great Barrington post office and filled out Form 1510, ''mail loss/rifling report."

When a parcel and its contents become separated, the empty package is sent to the addressee, said Bob Cannon, a spokesman for the Postal Service. The orphaned item would be sent to the Mail Recovery Center in Atlanta. ''It's not a hopeless situation," he said. ''The good news is that it's a specific unique item, not something generic like a fruitcake."

For Daniel Bellow, the loss of the book intensifies that of his father. ''Everything I got from my father I carry in my soul," he said. ''It's just a book. But I'd love to have this last token of affection. Someone, somewhere, has my father's last written message to me."

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