For half a century, while he built a reputation as one of the great novelists of his generation with works like Marjorie Morningstar and The Winds of War, Herman Wouk chased what he called “the impossible novel”—a story based on the life of Moses. He never found the key to making the book work. Until now.
The Lawgiver is in many ways a culmination for Wouk. Delivered near the end of his life (he is 97), it recalls the spirit of his earlier work, and realizes a dream that he held close for his entire literary career. The result is a surprising, refreshing and dynamic novel that explores the story of Moses through the lives of the people trying to tell it.
When an Australian billionaire sets out to finance a new big-screen epic telling the story of Moses, he approaches Wouk (a character in his own novel) to put his stamp of approval on any screenplay the effort produces. Wouk and his wife of more than six decades, Betty Sarah, find themselves embroiled in an often chaotic Hollywood production that includes demanding producers, mercurial actors, forceful financiers and a young director fighting to prove herself.
The entire tale is told in the form of dialogues and monologues. Emails, memos, transcripts of phone conferences and Skype meetings are included in every chapter, creating an immediacy and sense of voyeurism that makes every page crackle. Within the story, as each character mulls the life of Moses, we find the elements of an Old Testament epic—romance, deception, power versus determination—all wrapped up in a modern journey into the heart of Hollywood. It’s an intriguing and ultimately enchanting juxtaposition. Wouk wrings meaning and emotion from the cynicism of the movie industry, and reveals yet again that he is still capable of astounding feats of storytelling.