Herman Wouk: American Tolstoy

wouk d1What do you say about an almost 104 author when he passes away: that he was old, prolific, made a literary impact?

Herman Wouk died on May 17, 2019 just 10 days before his 104th birthday. While never considered a “great” writer (whatever that means), his impact on the American literary scene and on America’s perception of the modern American Jew was profound.

Many Americans learned about the Holocaust from his World War II books, Winds of War and War & Remembrance which were made into TV mini-series.

Wouk was also a practicing Orthodox Jew who wrote several books  explaining his beliefs.

woukd2Marjorie Morningstar (1955) showed American Jews to be like every other middle class American family at a time when Jews were making their way into mainstream America. The novel earned him a Time Magazine story.

His third novel, The Caine Mutiny (1951 , based on his experiences in the Navy during World War II, was awarded The Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, was made into a Broadway play and later a movie starring Humphrey Bogart.

He also wrote a fictionalized epic of Israel’s first years. The Hope and its sequel, The Glory.

woukd3Wouk was married to his wife  Betty Sarah for 66 years. After her death in 2011, “I wrote nothing that was of the slightest consequence before I met Sarah. I was a gag man for Fred Allen for five years. In his time, he was the greatest of the radio comedians. And jokes work for what they are but they’re ephemeral. They just disappear. And that was the kind of thing I did up until the time that I met Sarah and we married. And I would say my literary career and my mature life both began with her.”

Wouk reported was working on another book at the time of his death.

At the very least he was a prolific writer; at his best, he was a great storyteller who created memorable characters. Wouk was recognized by the Library of Congress as the first recipient of its lifetime fiction award.

Here’s a link to a previous article about Wouk on his 100th birthday: Hip! Hip! Hooray! It’s a Birthday!


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Aileen Grossberg

Aileen Grossberg

Aileen Grossberg, a professional librarian, is a long-time congregant and serves as volunteer librarian for Shomrei's Lampert Library. The library, one of the best-kept secrets at Shomrei is used by the Rabbi, congregants, students and teachers of the JLC (Hebrew School) and Preschool. It's a tremendous resource completely supported by your donations and gifts. Aileen also heads the Shomrei Caterers, the in-house food preparation group. Can there be any better combination…good food and good books!
Aileen Grossberg

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2 thoughts on “Herman Wouk: American Tolstoy

  1. What a shame Wouk died 10 days short of his 104th birthday. Speaking of birthdays, when I was an English teacher at the SSDS in Brooklyn, Herman Wouk’s CITY BOY was required reading for the 7th grade. To celebrate the completion of our reading this delightful coming of age story, we had a birthday party for Herbie Bookbinder, the main character. With original birthday cards, cake and wearing clothing of that era, we felt like Herbie was really there with us. I think Wouk would have enjoyed the party.

  2. In an earlier career, I often arranged and participated in meetings in Jerusalem between American and Israeli elected officials. One evening we were touring Jerusalem with our host Mayor Teddy Kollek when we met Herman Wouk who was there on a writing project. Teddy knew him quite well and he invited him to join our group. Wouk agreed and spent over an hour with us. For many of the American officials, and for me, the time we spent with Wouk was a highlight of our week-long stay in that remarkable country.

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