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Herman Wouk Dead at 103

Influential and supremely popular titan of Jewish letters

Tablet Magazine
May 17, 2019
Andrew H. Walker/Getty Images
Herman Wouk, May 2006Andrew H. Walker/Getty Images
Andrew H. Walker/Getty Images
Herman Wouk, May 2006Andrew H. Walker/Getty Images

Herman Wouk, the centenarian author of bestselling novels including The Caine Mutiny, The Winds of War, and Marjorie Morningstar, has died at age 103.

Here is book critic Adam Kirsch reviewing a late novel, Sailor and Fiddler, and reflecting on the seemingly charmed century of an American Jewish writer apparently devoid of neuroses. Kirsch also reviewed The Lawgiver, from this same late period, and found a writer still seeking the affirmation of Hollywood, but working outside of the mainstream of postwar Jewish literature, while defining another kind of epic bestseller.

Scholar Rachel Gordan looked at Wouk’s foundational postwar Modern Orthodoxy, in an essay on This Is My God, Wouk’s manifesto on religion.

Tablet Editor-in-Chief Alana Newhouse thought 1955’s Marjorie Morningstar worthy of being one of the 101 Great Jewish Books, but like many critics, she found flaws in its depictions of modern femininity. Likewise, writing in 2012 about Marjorie, Adam Kirsch observed:

“She is dull, dull as she can be, by any technical standard,” observes [Marjorie Morningstar’s] old friend Wally Wronken, a playwright, about the grown-up Marjorie. “You couldn’t write a play about her that would run a week, or a novel that would sell a thousand copies. There’s no angle.” And he is right—which is why the novel begins and ends where it does. The only narratable phase of Marjorie’s life is the brief window of sexual freedom between 17 and 25. The rest of life, as in a fairy tale, can only be summarized with a “happily ever after”—but, Wouk makes clear, not too happily. In this way, Wouk can both tease the reader with Marjorie’s nubility and her sexual explorations and reassure the reader that her sexuality will be punished and kept under control by a husband. No wonder the novel was a best-seller.

And Nextbook executive director Morton Landowne, reflected on 60 years of reading, after Wouk’s City Boy was the first novel he ever read.

Read more here.

From the editors at Tablet Magazine