Gently meandering work about writing and remembrance by a beloved American sage and author.
A kind of tongue-in-cheek anti-autobiography, this slender memoir by Wouk (The Lawgiver, 2012, etc.) divides his writing life and influences since he was 12 years old in 1927 (“the year ‘Lucky’ Lindbergh flew over the ocean nonstop to Paris”) between “Sailor,” or how his itinerant real life insinuated itself in his work, and “Fiddler,” the spiritual journey of his later years, as he plunged into Judaism and the saga of Israel. His longtime wife and literary agent (since deceased) used to read everything that he wrote and pounced on his idea of writing his autobiography by reminding him skeptically, “you’re not that interesting a person.” Wouk’s roots as a comedy writer pop up throughout the book. Having grown up in a Bronx Jewish household to Yiddish-speaking parents—his steam-laundry boss Papa regaled the family Friday nights with his readings of Shalom Aleichem—Wouk was steeped early on in folk humor and resolved to be a gagman, hired by “gag czar” David Freedman and then Fred Allen. By 1943, he was scrawling the first page of his first novel, Aurora Dawn (1947), aboard a minesweeper and became a rather accidental novelist, or so he writes about his advance for The Caine Mutiny (1951)—he was “bemused by this windfall of bucks.” Indeed, the author can barely grasp the effort that certainly charged his monumental works of fiction, starting with “the first novel about American Jewry,” Marjorie Morningstar, which put him on the cover of Time. Wouk was first moved to write about the Holocaust by reading Raul Hilberg; from there, he plunged into the “main task,” aka the World War II books. His “Fiddler” years led him to the autobiographical Inside, Outside (1985) and to years of intensive military research for The Hope (1993) and The Glory (1994)—“it’s expected of you,” he was told.
Readers of Wouk will delight in accompanying him through his triumphs and grief.