One of the problems with eulogies is that they only seem to occur posthumously. I often wonder why people who have produced something noteworthy aren’t honored until after they die and don’t get to hear the acclaim they deserve. In that vein, I want to recognize an aging classic novelist while he is still with us.
Herman Wouk is amazing. He doesn’t simply write books. He writes epics. He has a way of producing historical novels that are entertaining, engrossing, and educational at the same time. I have only had a small taste of his writing but it has had a profound effect on me. His novels on World War II greatly increased by knowledge and fascination with the subject and led to reading many more books on the conflict.
Wouk’s breakthrough novel in 1951 was “The Caine Mutiny” which he later adapted into a successful Broadway play and all-time classic film. It is based on a small section of the Navy regulations that states that relief of a ship’s captain due to stress, illness or mental incapacity is conceivable but should never happen without proper authorization unless conditions make it impractical. Wouk invents a plausible scenario where such an unlikely event occurs during a typhoon.
The movie became a classic due to the great performances of Humphrey Bogart, Jose Ferrer, Van Johnson, and Fred MacMurray. It’s an impressive look at personalities and how men interact in close quarters. It also has an unforeseen plot twist at the end that provides a lesson in how perception can outweigh reality.
Wouk went on to write such best sellers as “Marjorie Morningstar” and “Youngblood Hawke” (both of which I admit I haven’t read) but then came up with his twin World War II classics, “The Winds of War” and “War and Remembrance.” These two books give a thorough history of World War II through several fictional characters that span around 2,000 pages. The amount of research and depth in his writing is staggering. Wouk published “The Winds of War” in 1971 and didn’t come out with the “War and Remembrance” until 1978.