Herman Wouk has produced his best fiction about the two subjects he knows best: the military, and his Jewish heritage. In THE HOPE, he combines both interests, re-creating the excitement and anxiety surrounding the creation of the State of Israel. With consummate narrative skill, Wouk focuses his attention on the three major military engagements which defined Israel’s statehood and established her boundaries: the 1948 War for Independence, the 1956 Sinai Campaign, and the 1967 Six Day War.
Through a central fictional character, Zev Barak, the novelist is able to give readers insight into both the military and the international political situation which surrounded these events. Barak is a soldier who rises through the ranks from platoon leader in the 1948 conflict to the position of military attache to the United States. Over the twenty years covered by the narrative, he travels at home and abroad to help win support for his country and its military—usually with exceptional success. The courage of Israel’s field commanders is portrayed in Yossi Nitzan, nicknamed Don Kishote after Cervantes’ famous character. Throughout the novel, Barak, Nitzan, and other fictional characters interact with real-life figures such as David Ben Gurion, Menachem Begin, Yitzak Rabin, and Levi Eshkol. As in most Wouk novels, women play a less significant role; Barak’s long-suffering wife Nakhama, the soldier-turned-businesswoman Yael Luria, and American ingenue Emily Cunningham provide insight into the effect of the Israelis’ struggle on both insiders and those outside the Middle East.
As in most romances, Wouk’s fictional characters have an impact on world events far beyond that which the historical record would allow. Wouk relies on typecasting for many characters, and his handling of romantic interludes is sometimes strained. This limitation is more than made up for, however, in his sweeping analysis of the conflicts which have literally determined the life of Israel. One might surmise that he is more like Dickens than Henry James in creating his fictional heroes and heroines. Metaphorically speaking, if he is to fill such a large canvas, Wouk must be allowed to paint with broad strokes.