Orthodox Jewish Pulitzer Prize Laureate Dies at 104
Herman Wouk, the prodigious Orthodox Jewish writer best known for his Pulitzer Prize winning historical fiction The Caine Mutiny has passed away at the age of 104.
Wouk has been described by peers and critics as “an American Tolstoy.” His books have been translated into 27 languages including This Is My God, an explanation of Judaism from a modern Orthodox perspective, written for Jewish and non-Jewish audiences.
Wouk was born in the Bronx, NY born to Esther and Abraham Isaac Wouk, Russian Jewish immigrants from Belarus. The family were poor, his father ran a neighborhood laundry service.
When Wouk was 13, his maternal grandfather, Mendel Leib Levine, came from Minsk to live with them and took charge of his grandson’s Jewish education. Wouk was not happy with the amount of time he was expected to study the Talmud in addition to his regular school assignments, but his father told him, “if I were on my deathbed, and I had breath to say one more thing to you, I would say ‘Study the Talmud.’” Wouk took this advice to heart Orthodox Judaism became an integral part of his writing and worldview.
Wouk kept a personal diary from 1937 until his death. In 2008 he presented the Library of Congress with his journals, which at that time numbered more than 100 volumes. Wouk was honored with the first Library of Congress Lifetime Achievement Award for the Writing of Fiction.
His first-born son, Abraham Isaac Wouk (1946–1951), drowned in a swimming pool accident in Mexico shortly before his fifth birthday. Wouk later dedicated War and Remembrance to him with the biblical words “He will destroy death forever” (Isaiah 25:8). Their second and third children were Nathaniel Wouk, a Princeton University graduate and an author, and Joseph, a Columbia graduate, an attorney, a film producer, and a writer who served in the Israeli Navy.
“I wrote nothing that was of the slightest consequence before I met Sarah,” Wouk said after the death of his wife. About his early writings, Wouk said “they are like a joke, ephemeral. They just disappear. And that was the kind of thing I did up until the time that I met Sarah and we married. And I would say my literary career and my mature life both began with her.”
Wouk died in his sleep just 10 days shy of his 104th birthday in his home in Palm Springs, California.