Inside, Outside Essay - Critical Essays

Herman Wouk

Inside, Outside

INSIDE, OUTSIDE is a warm, immensely witty book in which corporate tax attorney I. David Goodkind is lured to Washington, D.C., to serve as Richard Nixon’s special assistant for cultural matters, particularly those relating to Jews. The effects of Watergate have begun to be felt. The “outside” of the title is the goyish world into which David’s profession has drawn him; the “inside” is the warm life of his Russian-Jewish family on which he, as narrator, reflects in the course of the novel.

The book goes back to the Bronx of David’s youth in the 1920’s and even to the first years of the century before David’s birth. In vignette after vignette, the narrator tells lovingly and amusingly the story of his family and of his own life. David’s family eventually moves to Manhattan. He opts to attend Columbia University rather than a Jewish school, thereby making a major step toward assimilation, a matter with which the novel is much concerned.

The book covers some seventy years of Jewish social history, and the story moves from the Minsk of David’s forebears to New York and Washington and Israel and back to Washington again. Many public figures appear barely disguised in the novel, a feature which adds to its interest and timeliness. Despite its scope, the books’s plot is gracefully handled; the development is relaxed and splendidly wrought.

Herman Wouk is a consummate raconteur. Here, he has produced a highly readable and thoroughly entertaining book that also deals with important social questions.