For Herman Wouk fans who remember the excitement of the author’s sea stories—The Caine Mutiny (1951), The Winds of War (1971), War and Remembrance (1978)—Inside, Outside will be something of a surprise. First, it has little to do with the sea, except that the hero crosses it repeatedly—but by air—and the hero’s association with the navy is of incidental importance. Second, the cast of characters is much more homogeneous in ethnic background and somewhat more limited than in the later sea stories. Also, the techniques of storytelling which Wouk employs in this novel are decidedly different from those of the World War II stories.
The roots of this novel lie not in America’s experience of world war but rather in Wouk’s own personal experiences of growing up Jewish in America. The reader looking for a parallel in Wouk’s canon will have to go outside the fiction to the author’s modest apologia for his heritage, This Is My God (1959). In this extended essay, Wouk explores the meaning of Judaism for the modern Jew and tries to make the religion and heritage of his people comprehensible for non-Jews. Inside, Outside does much the same thing within the realm of fiction. Through these make-believe characters, Wouk brings the world of the American Jew into sharp focus, especially for the multitude of readers who are not themselves Jewish.
The hero, Israel David Goodkind, is a successful lawyer who, in the “present time” of the novel, is serving as a special adviser to American president Richard Nixon. That position gives him access to the circles of power within the country and causes him to be employed as special envoy for missions involving the State of Israel. The climax of his adventures in this position involves him in negotiations between Nixon and Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir during the 1973 Yom Kippur War. In a fashion typical of earlier novels, Wouk interweaves the lives of his characters with those of real people in positions of power. Like Pug Henry, hero of The Winds of War and War and Remembrance, David (he is not called Israel outside his Jewish home) Goodkind is able to influence history and hence provide a valuable service to his country.
Goodkind’s adventures on behalf of his country make up only a very small part of this novel, though. The primary story is the one Goodkind tells of his family and his own life as a Jew growing up in New York City. Driven by a need to explain how he became the enigma that he appears to be—to his wife, to his daughter, even to himself—Goodkind pours forth this first-person account to make intelligible the forces that have shaped him. He provides a detailed, sympathetic, “inside” (the focus on the word is intentional) account of the home life, the business world, the academic training of the American Jew. His life story is a chronicle of a people making adjustments between old customs and new challenges to become an accepted part of the American scene.
Goodkind himself tells the reader that the chronicle he is creating is not “literature”; rather, the narrator is cleaning out the attic of his memory. That remark helps explain the organization of the novel, which is roughly a juxtaposition of present events (1973) with recollections of Goodkind’s years from birth to the beginning of World War II. The chronology of the present story is kept almost perfectly: Events build slowly, as Goodkind watches with concern the growing tensions between Israel and its Arab neighbors. That concern becomes personal when both his mother and his daughter travel to Israel, and, upon the disappearance of his daughter at an Israeli kibbutz, Goodkind finds himself in Israel after the outbreak of hostilities in 1973. He then becomes involved directly in the negotiations for the United States airlift of supplies to the Israelis.
This action occupies less than a quarter of the novel, however, and the larger story is not organized quite as systematically. Especially in the early chapters, Goodkind presents events as they occur to him, telling the story of his parents’ immigration to America, the story of his early childhood, and tales of members of the Russian Jewish mishpohka (extended family) to which the hero belongs.
The “inside” story focuses on Goodkind as a child and as a young man. The intellectually gifted second child of immigrant parents, he lives a sheltered life in the Jewish section of...
(The entire section is 1845 words.)