Wouk's Moses narrative

Author Herman Wouk interjects himself in his latest fiction, a unique narrative to create a film about Moses.

Moses_521 (photo credit: Courtesy)
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Sixty-four years ago, Simon & Schuster published Herman Wouk’s first novel, Aurora Dawn. He went on to write 11 more novels, three plays, and three non-fiction books. In 1951, he received the Pulitzer Prize for The Caine Mutiny, later made into a popular play and movie. Marjorie Morningstar was the best-selling novel of 1955, and Youngblood Hawke, a fictional biography of Thomas Wolfe, appeared in 1961. Two popular accounts of World War II, The Winds of War (1971) and War and Remembrance (1978) were produced as a well-received TV miniseries.
Now, at the age of 97, Wouk has written an unusual novel about putting together a film dealing with the life of Moses. It is unusual in that, rather than the customary narrative, it consists of letters, memos, e-mail messages, news articles, transcripts and recorded conversations. It is also singular in that Wouk and his wife appear as characters in the book under their real names. Unfortunately she died in March 2011 while the book was being written.
A touching epilogue by Wouk refers to her death at the age of 90 after 63 years of marriage, and to his indebtedness to her for everything he wrote.
This new book opens with a complicated effort to persuade Wouk to write a film about the life of Moses. It just happens that Wouk has been thinking for a long time about writing a novel on this subject, and so he agrees to act as a consultant if a writer-director can be found who, in Wouk’s judgment, is up to the task.
The sponsor of the venture is an eccentric Australian uranium tycoon who is not fazed when told that the cost of the project might be $200 million. The proposed writer-director is Margolit Solovei, a rabbi’s daughter with a “deep Jewish background” that is submerged in her Hollywood success. Tentatively approved by both Wouk and the Australian, she begins writing the script and seeking an actor for the role of Moses.
The complications that ensue are often hilarious and sometimes difficult to follow as the scene shifts over large distances and involves developments rather thinly connected to the major emphasis of the story. But all’s well that ends well: Wouk approves Solovei’s screenplay, and the movie is a smash hit – even the Arabic version.
Readers will undoubtedly marvel at the ability of a 97-year-old author to produce a book with such an unusual format.
Regardless of their opinion about the book’s design, anything written by Herman Wouk is worth reading, and The Lawgiver is no exception.
The writer is founding dean of the Wurzweiler School of Social Work and dean emeritus of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s School of Social Work.