Historians, novelists, publishers, and critics who gathered at the Library of Congress in 1995 to mark Herman Wouk’s 80th birthday likened him to “an American Tolstoy.”

Wouk, who has been known to dodge journalists and podiums, took the floor reluctantly, explaining that he had hated history as a youth, had taken no history courses in college and had set forth in the 1930s with the life’s ambition to make people laugh.

After working as a joke writer for radio comedian Fred Allen, he said, “history obtruded itself on me” in the form of World War II, and he ended up on a destroyer in the South Pacific, half a world away from anything he had known or imagined. As it did for most of his generation, he said, the war changed everything in his life.

“The Caine Mutiny,” he said, grew from his war service as “an exploration of the limits of power and the instinct for personal freedom which every American has.” But despite its immense success in the 1950s — both as a novel and as a play and movie — “I always told myself this is not a great war book. This is just an anecdote about the war.”

Thirty years ago, Wouk said, he realized that if he was ever going to write the great war book he hoped to, he would have to learn history. “The first book I read was Thucydides’ story of the Peloponnesian War.” Then came Churchill’s World War II history, and then “War and Peace” for the fourth time, “not for the entertainment but to see how Tolstoy told the story. And I realized that for all its sweep of history, the true narrative force of the story” was not the clash of the French and Russian generals “but who gets Natasha.” And thus, he said, the framework of “The Winds of War” and “War and Remembrance” were born.

Source : FICTION’S TRUEST VOICE, May 16, 1995.

hey there fella,

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s