Wednesday, September 25, 2013

The Lawgiver by Herman Wouk

Herman Wouk certainly deserves the praise he's received over the years - calling him a legendary author is no exaggeration.  This is particularly true when you take into account that his latest novel was penned at age 97 - and it all takes the form of e-mails, text messages, meeting and Skype transcripts, letters and diary entries.

Apparently Wouk has wanted to write about Moses for more than 50 years - and he picks a really interesting way to tackle it.  The story centres on an elderly, wealthy, Australian Jew, Mr. Gluck, who jets around the world on his private plane following his investments.  One of his investment partners, Hezzie Jacobs, is about to lose a fortune unless the movie studio he has invested in, WarshaWorks, can be saved.  Gluck agrees to save it only if the studio produces a movie about Moses - and the script must be approved by Herman Wouk, who, together with his wife Betty Sarah, are characters in the novel.

The studio turns to a relatively unknown writer-director, Margo Solvei, to write the script, subject to Wouk's approval.  Margo is the daughter of a Hassidic Rabbi, estranged from her father since she left her religious life.  The main thread of the story is about Margo.  We follow her writing efforts as she struggles with her mentor, Wouk and the studio; her attempts to enlist an unknown Australian sheep farmer turned part-time actor to portray Moses; her budding pen pal relationship with a woman she's never met in person but with whom she shares intimate details of her life; her letters to her brother and former classmates and, especially, her renewed love life with her former boyfriend Josh.

There are admittedly parts of the book which I didn't think needed to be there - a lot of correspondence relating to a legal dispute between geneticists about the patent for turning algae into fuel.  As far as I could tell they were only there to facilitate Margo and Josh being in Australia at the same time - if they added more, I missed it.

But generally Wouk's insights into people and his character development are fantastic.  His use of Yiddish expressions and biblical references are fabulous.  It's really a shame his wife did not live to see this book published - his love and respect for her are evident in every passage she's in.

The characters in this book frequently wish each other the Yiddish blessing of living until 120.  If Wouk does, he's got at least a few more good writing years ahead of him!

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