The novelist Herman Wouk, who will turn one-hundred next week, is known for his best-selling renditions of World War II and of American Jewry. While critics have been less than kind about his artistry, David Frum argues that the novels contain important ideas—especially about the nature of war—that make them worth reading. On Wouk’s treatment of the Holocaust, Frum writes:
The Nazi Holocaust pervades [Wouk’s The Winds of War and its sequel, War and Remembrance], and lurks in the corners of The Caine Mutiny, too. Some of Wouk’s characters stumble into the Holocaust’s maw; others glimpse inside and are transformed forever. Adolf Eichmann makes a large and memorable appearance in War and Remembrance. Let it be noted that the supposedly middlebrow Wouk more shrewdly penetrated the Nazi murderer’s self-serving lies than the echt-highbrow Hannah Arendt. Wouk’s Eichmann is no banal bureaucrat, but a fanatical plunderer and murderer—just as the historical documents that have become available since the writing of Wouk’s novels have confirmed.
It’s really a striking thing how unexpressed a place the Holocaust occupied in the writing of American-Jewish novelists in the decades after the war: Heller, Bellow, Malamud, Doctorow. (Mordecai Richler too, to include a Canadian.) With Wouk, the Holocaust is always front of mind. In 2012, at ninety-seven, when he was asked by Vanity Fair which living person he most despised, he answered, “The Jewish writer who traduces his Jewishness.” (The runner-up, it would seem, is the U.S. military veteran who traduces the U.S. military.)