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Book Review: 'The Lawgiver'

Critic Alan Cheuse reviews the latest work from nonagenarian Herman Wouk called The Lawgiver.

Transcript

MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

And Audie Cornish. In a minute, we'll hear from one of the oldest rockers around, but first, a new book from one of our oldest writers. Pulitzer Prize winner Herman Wouk is 97 and just released his latest novel, "The Lawgiver." Alan Cheuse has this review.

ALAN CHEUSE, BYLINE: "The Lawgiver," of the title of this novel by nonagenarian novelist Wouk, he's the Biblical Moses. And in this new playful new work of fiction, a 90-plus-year-old writer named Herman Wouk is writing a novel about him or trying to. Wouk keeps getting interrupted by various movie people and investors who want his imprimatur for a movie about the great Jewish era.

We learn about all this in the form of an up-to-date variation of the old novel of letters. Wouk creates "The Lawgiver" out of emails, memos, letters, notes and legal papers, messages between himself and his wife and agent, Betty Sarah Wouk, from the would-be producers, from the screenwriter, a Jewish woman from New York who lives on Catalina Island.

She's been raised Orthodox and becomes secular, but now, near midlife, she's edging back toward the centerline of her faith because of her work on the Moses story, all while she and her circle of New York friends fall in and out of love and back again. A few other subplots pop up here, but this is mainly it. Now, Wouk has never been a great stylist, but here, near the end of life, we find him still dispensing compelling wisdom about the human heart in and out of love.

Write a light-hearted novel about the impossibility of writing a novel about Moses, he says in a note to himself toward the end of the book. And in the end, you find when you get there, light-hearted turns to heart-breaking.

CORNISH: Alan Cheuse reviewing Herman Wouk's "The Lawgiver." Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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