Ten years in the past, a buddy and colleague urged that I write “The Nice Vatican Novel.” I shortly declined, not simply because the reality about life behind the Leonine Wall is usually stranger than fiction (and extra so for the reason that suggestion was made), however as a result of the thought of writing a novel terrifies me. Writing massive books — no downside. Sitting in entrance of a keyboard or a pad of paper and making all of it up out of my head — characters, plot, dialogue — is past my creativeness.
Which is one purpose why I used to be delighted to fulfill Herman Wouk, who died this previous Might 17.
Having received the Pulitzer Prize for fiction with the 1951 bestseller, The Caine Mutiny, Wouk by no means took his foot off the authorial accelerator for greater than a half-century thereafter, reaching the head of his reputation with two extra World Struggle II novels, The Winds of Struggle and Struggle and Remembrance (for which he subsequently wrote screenplays). However whereas fiction was on my thoughts once we first met, it wasn’t on Herman’s. He was writing a companion quantity to his well-known introduction to Judaism, This Is My God, and the Librarian of Congress, James Billington, urged to Herman that he may need me to transient him on developments in Jewish-Catholic relations since This Is My God was printed in 1959.
So over lunch at Washington’s Cosmos Membership, Wouk and I spent an hour going over Vatican II’s educating on Judaism and its deepening by Pope John Paul II; the advances lately made within the Jewish-Christian theological dialog by Father Richard John Neuhaus, Rabbi David Novak, and an unofficial group of Jewish and Christian students; and what the official terrain of Jewish-Catholic dialogue may seem like sooner or later. As host, Herman couldn’t have been extra gracious, so once we had been having espresso, I made a decision to pop the query that had been on my thoughts from the second we sat down: How on earth do you write a novel? And particularly, the place did Captain Queeg, the principal character in The Caine Mutiny, come from?
Wouk didn’t miss a beat. There had been a number of mutinies within the U.S. Navy throughout World Struggle II (all in port, by the way), and the writer had gotten permission from the Pentagon to learn the transcripts of the trials that adopted. Herman actually drew on his personal naval expertise in giving The Caine Mutiny its verisimilitude and its array of characters; however the captain of the fictional destroyer-minesweeper USS Caine, Philip Francis Queeg, “emerged” from the testimonies of assorted officers at the actual trials, Wouk mentioned. OK, I replied, what about Armin von Roon, the aristocratic Wehrmacht basic who offers readers the view from the opposite aspect of the hill in The Winds of Struggle and Struggle and Remembrance? The reply was about the identical: From Wouk’s in depth studying within the memoirs of German officers, von Roon “emerged.”
It could sound easy. What was actually at work right here, although, was disciplined expertise knowledgeable by appreciable human perception.
Certainly one of our final conversations jogged my memory of the regularity of Herman’s Jewish observe. He’d had his writer ship me the proofs of his penultimate novel, A Gap in Texas, which anticipated nuclear physicists’ discovery of the Higgs boson whereas lampooning scientific hubris and governmental craziness. I’d learn the galleys in a single sitting and referred to as the writer on a Saturday night, Washington time, to congratulate him. However I’d miscalculated sunset in California, and the housekeeper who answered the telephone mentioned, very politely, that “Mr. Wouk will probably be completely happy to take your name after the Sabbath.”
Herman Wouk’s reward for storytelling was matched by his seriousness and it could not be a mistake to suppose that he imagined writing as a vocation. Shortly after a whole lot of America started watching the televised adaptation of The Winds of Struggle within the early 1980s, he mirrored on a deep irony of his craft: “It’s the paradox of my profession that, although I’ve received recognition as a creator of struggle literature, I regard struggle and the preparation for struggle because the primal curse now afflicting the human race. Some severe writers have understandably averted their eyes from the cranium that grins at them from present occasions, in order to create artwork from their non-public preoccupations. I’ve seemed straight on the grinning cranium and written about it.”
This gifted, purposeful storyteller died at 103, nonetheless writing. Might he relaxation together with his forefathers, within the bosom of Abraham.