Herman Wouk, the American author whose novels about World War Two made him famous, has passed away at the age of 103. Wouk died on May 17 at his home in Palm Springs, California. He passed away in his sleep.
Wouk is probably best known as the author of The Caine Mutiny and The Winds of War. But he is also remembered and loved for his depiction of Jewish American life, especially in the novel Marjorie Morningstar. Wouk was one of the few deeply religious novelists to find success in the 20th century. A devout Jew, Wouk studied the Talmud on a daily basis and led a weekly Talmud class. He lived in Washington DC for many years, and was such a regular at his Georgetown synagogue that it came to be known as “Herman Wouk’s synagogue.”
Here’s what you need to know about Herman Wouk’s books:
The Caine Mutiny Was Inspired by Wouk’s Experience as a Mine Sweeper in World War Two & Won a Pulitzer Prize
The Caine Mutiny, which was published in 1951, may be Wouk’s best-known book. The book won a Pulitzer Prize and was adapted, in 1954, for a movie starring Humphrey Bogart. The Caine Mutiny tells the story of Willie Keith, a young man who’s been assigned to serve on a minesweeper called the USS Caine. But the story also centers around the arrogant, insecure captain of the ship, Captain Queeg, and his treatment of the men aboard the minesweeper. Eventually, the ships’ lieutenant is persuaded to lead a mutiny against the captain, relieving him of command.
Wouk himself served aboard a detroyer-minesweeper stationed in the Pacific during World War Two, and the Caine Mutiny is said to be inspired by his experience aboard the ship. Wouk said that he was surprised when Humphrey Bogart was picked for the role of Captain Queeg, since Wouk had envisioned the captain as a weak, small man with wispy hair. But Wouk said later that Bogart had given the performance of a lifetime as Queeg.
His Non-Fiction Book, ‘This Is My God,’ Explains Judiaism to a Non-Jewish & Secular Audience
Herman Wouk was a devout Jew, who studied the Talmud every day and was a fixture in his local synagogue. He authored a book called “This Is My God,” which was intended to explain Judaism to a non-Jewish and secular audience. The book is written from a modern Orthodox perspective. It was originally published in serial form in the Los Angeles Times. “This is My God” explains Jewish holidays, laws around food, and other religious practices. The book was intended to educate ordinary Americans about Judaism and to prove that it was possible to be a mainstream American and a religious Jew at the same time.
Wouk was born in The Bronx, New York in 1915. His father, Abraham, ran a laundry business. Both of Wouk’s parents were immigrants from Belarus. Wouk’s grandfather was a big influence on him and gave him his first religious education.
The Winds of War, Wouk’s Second Novel About World War Two, Was Later Made Into ‘The Ultimate Epic Miniseries’
Wouk wrote “The Winds of War” in 1971, a full two decades after he penned The Caine Mutiny. The Winds of War tells the story of Victor “Pug” Henry, a naval officer in World War Two and a confidant of President Franklin D Roosevelt. The novel deals with the real events of World War Two and the specifics of the US-USS relationship. But the book is also a saga about Victor Henry and his family. It tells the story of Henry’s troubled relationship with his wife, their children, and their children’s adult lives.
“The Winds of War” was made into a miniseries for ABC in 1983. Robert Mitchum was cast as Victor Henry, and Ali McGraw portrayed Natalie Jastrow.
Stephen King Used Herman Wouk to Title One of His Most Famous Short Stories
Stephen King’s story “Herman Wouk Is Still Alive” appeared in The Atlantic in 2011. You can read the story here. The short story describes the plight of a single mother who, in an act of desperation, decides to ram her rented van into a tree, ending the lives of everyone in the car.