Herman Wouk’s Moral Imagination Goes to Summer Camp

The death of the celebrated American Jewish writer Herman Wouk last month, at the age of one-hundred-three, led Jonathan Karp to reflect on Wouk’s second novel, City Boy: The Adventures of Herbie Bookbinder:

A small comic masterpiece that has been accurately described as an urban Jewish Tom SawyerCity Boy is a classic of the young-adult genre avant la lettre. As with [Wouk’s better-known] Marjorie Morningstar, the fact that the action takes place in a thickly Jewish environment is both essential and inconsequential to the book’s enjoyment. Eleven-year-old Herbie is a universal type: diminutive, overweight, bookish, and unathletic, yet a true boy nonetheless, whose quest for the pretty red-headed fille fatale, Lucile Glass, drives him to acts of foolhardy bravery and reckless derring-do we would otherwise not expect from such an apprentice schlemiel. . . .

City Boy is a testament to Herman Wouk’s comic genius, his satiric wit, and his narrative aplomb. The story races to a suspenseful climax, too convoluted and improbable to summarize here but nevertheless entirely convincing and mesmerizing for the charmed reader. At the same time, the novel is not without its serious side. Young Herbie does triumph over adversity in the end—the scholar Bookbinder vanquishing his nemesis, the truculent Krieger—but this is [nothing like the 1984 film] Revenge of the Nerds.

The camp’s homespun handyman, Elmer Bean, in the midst of an extraordinary goodbye, . . . offers the hero only his mixed endorsement: “Herb—I dunno what to tell you, Herb. You might be a very big guy someday, an’ then again I dunno.” Herbie has employed deceit and theft to win the day—and the heart of his fair lady. Before the book’s end, he must at last confront the real ethical hurdles to his becoming a true mensch.

What it took to become a mensch remained one of the abiding themes of Herman Wouk’s fiction over the many decades after the publication of City Boy. It was certainly what he was thinking about when he wrote in his enduringly popular This Is My God that “the core of Judaism is right conduct to other people.” What has been labeled Wouk’s conservatism was more accurately an ethical commitment that rooted his fiction in a quest to transcend human foibles even as he took great relish in exposing them.

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Read more at Jewish Review of Books

More about: American Jewish literature, Arts & Culture, Herman Wouk

Don’t Expect the Jerusalem Summit to Drive a Wedge between Russia and Iran

June 14 2019

Later this month, an unprecedented meeting will take place in Jerusalem among the top national-security officials of the U.S., Israel, and Russia to discuss the situation in Syria. Moscow is likely to seek financial aid for the reconstruction of the war-ravaged country, or at the very least an easing of sanctions on Bashar al-Assad. Washington and Jerusalem are likely to pressure the Russian government to reduce the presence of Iranian forces and Iran-backed militias in Syria, or at the very least to keep them away from the Israeli border. But to Anna Borshchevskaya, any promises made by Vladimir Putin’s representatives are not to be trusted:

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Read more at Washington Institute for Near East Policy

More about: Iran, Israeli Security, Politics & Current Affairs, Russia, Syrian civil war