The Pulitzer Prize-winning Jewish author Herman Wouk has published his latest and what he indicated was likely his last book at the age of 102.
Interviewed by “CBS Sunday Morning” on Sunday, Wouk discussed his life, his work, and what he called his “main task,” which was to “fix down in literature what happened in World War II and the Holocaust.”
Wouk did precisely that in his mammoth novel “The Winds of War” and its equally weighty sequel “War and Remembrance.” Both novels were adapted into successful television miniseries, the latter of which was notable for scenes shot at the site of the Auschwitz death camp. Over a decade before “Schindler’s List,” it was one of the first explicit depictions of the camps on film.
Asked by CBS whether he was deliberately teaching readers about history through his work, he replied, “Doggone right I am! That’s the main task.”
In an article marking Wouk’s 100th birthday in 2015, The Atlantic wrote of Wouk’s two war novels, “Pull that paperback from off the cottage shelf, open the pages—and suddenly there you are: walking a Polish country road as a Stuka buzzes overhead … in the wardroom of a warship tasting thin Navy coffee … shivering in the unpressurized cabin of a bomber above Germany … or waiting amid a roomful of desperate visa applicants for the stamp that will mean the difference between life and death.”
Henry Kissinger, The Atlantic noted, said of Wouk’s work, “It is the war itself.”
Wouk also dealt extensively with Judaism and the Jewish state. In “This Is My God: The Jewish Way of Life,” he explored his own Jewish faith and the nature of Judaism itself. He also wrote two novels, “The Hope” and “The Glory,” that chronicled Israel’s history from its founding to the 1979 peace treaty with Egypt.
Wouk was born in the Bronx to an Orthodox family and remains an observant Jew. He was educated at Columbia University and joined the US Navy following the attack on Pearl Harbor, serving as an officer on a minesweeper in the Pacific.
After the war, he landed an unlikely job as a “gag writer” for the popular radio comedian Fred Allen, but grew tired of the grind of churning out jokes and turned to more serious writing in which he “just reported the facts.”
Aided by his wife, Sarah, who served as a sounding board for his ideas and eventually became his literary agent, he fictionalized his war experiences into the bestselling novel “The Caine Mutiny,” which won him the Pulitzer Prize and was made into a film starring legendary screen actor Humphrey Bogart.
Asked about his late wife’s importance to his work, Wouk simply replied, “She was the key.”
Wouk’s latest book, “The Sailor and the Fiddler” is autobiographical, a summation of his long life as a literary man. Asked whether he is still writing, he responded, “I always keep my diary. Beyond that go find yourself another interview.”