Today, one of the greatest Jewish American novelists of all time celebrates a big milestone. But even as Herman Wouk celebrates his 100th birthday, the literary giant shows no signs of slowing down.
Simon & Schuster recently announced that it would be publishing Wouk’s memoir – his first – 'Sailor and Fiddler: Reflections of a 100-Year-Old Author' in December.
Born in 1915 to a Russian immigrant family, Wouk grew up in the Bronx and graduated with a B.A. from Columbia University. After a brief stint in radio (he wrote sketches for the Fred Allen show) he joined the United States Navy, serving in the pacific during WWII. It was his experience in the navy that inspired his first great literary success, ‘The Caine Mutiny’. The book sold millions of copies, won him a Pulitzer, and stayed on bestseller lists for two consecutive years after it was published in 1951.
“Herman Wouk has a fair claim to stand among the greatest American war novelists of them all,” David Frum recently wrote in the Atlantic.
Over the span of his lengthy career Wouk won acclaim for his work. Aside from the 1952 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, he won America’s first Library of Congress fiction award in 2008. The award was later renamed the Herman Wouk award in his honor.
Wouk — who grew up in a secular Jewish home, but became more observant as a young adult — wrote about themes closer to home, exploring Judaism, Jews and Jewishness in many of his books. In 1959 he published ‘This Is My God’. In his own words, "A fairly short and clear account of the Jewish faith from a personal viewpoint.” He dedicated the book to his grandfather, a Rabbi from Minsk.
In ‘The Winds of War’ and ‘War and Remembrance’ he wrote about the Holocaust, and his twin historical novels, ‘The Hope’ and ‘The Glory’ discussed the state of Israel.
But perhaps his greatest work was his treatment of American Jewish life in ‘Marjorie Morningstar’, a novel about a starry-eyed young, Jewish girl — who seeks fame and love — but arguably doesn’t get either.
One of the most popular novels of 1955, it brought Jewish themes to a broader audience, challenging conventional publishing along the way.
Mazel tov, Mr. Wouk! To many more.