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.
Marjorie 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.
Wouk 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!