Corde is a Professor of Journalism and Dean of students at a Chicago university. His beautiful wife Minna is an internationally known astronomer. As the book opens the couple are in Eastern Europe. Minna had to migrated to America many years before, but now her mother has suffered a stroke and is lying semiconscious in the local State hospital. As Corde tries to help Minna grapple with an alien bureaucracy, to adapt to life in his mother-in-law's small apartment and to cope with her relations and family friends, news filters through to him of problems he has left behind in Chicago. One of his students has been murdered by black criminals; his cousin and his nephew line up against him and try to make him drop the case. A series of articles he is writing for a magazine offends powerful and influential Chicagoans he had thought of as friends. A childhood companion, now a television pundit, shows him unsuspected aspects of his own character. Gradually it becomes clear that Corde's trip abroad is more than a brief interlude in a calm and orderly life and that nothing for him will ever be the same again. To the familiar Bellow magic and mastery, The Dean's December adds a new sense of urgency, of topicality, and an almost thriller-like tension. The wit, the erudition, the unique and extraordinary use of language will be a delight to admirers of Herzog and Humboldt's Gift; but the framework in which they are displayed represents a completely new departure.