Wouk and Remembrance

Herman WoukI kicked off 2016 by starting The Winds of War and War and Remembrance by Herman Wouk, with the idea of finishing by today, his 101st birthday (which he is alive to celebrate). Alas, I’m only 80-odd hours into the 101 hour audiobook (the numerical coincidence wasn’t lost on me) the two-volume novel comprises. The books are thought provoking and revealing and I’ll have a lot to say about them later, when I’ve actually finished, but I wanted to wish Mr. Wouk a happy birthday.

I’ve been a Wouk fan since high school. My favorite is City Boy, a book I love beyond measure and include in my personal top five. That one and Youngblood Hawke show his bent for humor, but his legacy is his war novels, espcially The Caine Mutiny, which won the Pulitzer Prize, and the two books about the Henry family and World War II. Through Wouk’s novels I’ve gained a lot of appreciation for the men who fought World War II, while also having a much richer and nuanced view of America during the war, which Wouk faithfully records without the “greatest generation” mythmaking.

Byron RobinsonI’ll blog more about the novels later, but a curious coincidence of the books is a major character named Byron Henry. Our own Byron is named for Henry Byron Robinson, his grandfather, who — like Byron in the book — served in the Pacific theater in World War II. My father in law, like both of my grandparents, never regaled people with war stories, but he was haunted by memories of it for the rest of his life. That is, until yesterday, when he died at the age of 93, taking his secrets with him.

By didn’t define himself by his war experience. He liked reading, music, birdwatching. and big cuddly dogs. Most of all, my wife says, “he enjoyed being a dad.” But she also says “he thought about [the war] every day, even if he never talked about it. It was obvious.” We don’t need myth-making but we do need to respect, as Wouk does, the courage and sacrifice those men made.



6 thoughts on “Wouk and Remembrance

  1. I am sorry for your family’s loss, Kurtis.
    I loved Herman Wouk books, too. I’ve read and re-read THE WINDS OF WAR and WAR AND REMEMBRANCE more times than probably any other books. And I love the story about his wife telling him if THE CAINE MUTINY didn’t sell (after a few others failed), maybe he’d better give up this writing thing. Glad he didn’t.

    • But have you read City Boy? So few books write honestly about how big the hearts of little boys are. That one does so with much hilarity and adventure.

      • I think I must have because I compulsively read every one. I probably own it–I’ll dig it up for a reason-read!

  2. Our condolences on the loss of someone who meant a great deal to you. Soldiers, sailors … their minds are forever changed by difficult burdens.

    I loved the Herman Wouk books, too, but I’ve never read City Boy. Adding it to my “sooner than later” list.

  3. Hello Kurtis – I am a big Herman Wouk fan, just stumbling on your blog as I looked for 101st birthday tributes. Mr. Wouk is the only author to whom I ever wrote a fan letter – about 15 years ago – and he answered! Such a warm and thoughtful reply to my ramblings. I use his hand-written letter as a bookmark in my extremely worn copy of “Winds of War”. I read “The Caine Mutiny” when I was about 14 (45 years ago!) and was mesmerized. The “Winds of War” was published about that same time, and I read it eagerly. I had to wait until I was in college for “War and Remembrance,” and by then I had read everything else, including, of course, “City Boy”. I agree with you that “City Boy” is a real gem, unjustly ignored for the most part these days. Anyone reading it can see the influence of Mark Twain in almost every passage. It is humorous and wise and poignant. Herman Wouk did for me what good authors are supposed to do: he allowed me (compelled me!) to see the world through another set of eyes, to experience what it is like to “be” somebody else. He helped educate a midwestern American boy steeped in protestant, rural culture about the lives of Jews in big cities and sailors in battle and men and women caught up in tragedy and history and comedy. I expect the Byron in your life educated you in a different way – by example and stoicism, I’d guess from what you say. Thanks to him and Mr. Wouk for their gifts!

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