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The Lawgiver: A Novel by Herman Wouk

The Lawgiver: A Novel

by Herman Wouk

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This was a very fun, very easy read with a lot of humor. The story is basically the effort being put forth by a group of people, with various motives, who want to get a movie about Moses made in Hollywood.

The main character is Margo Solovei, a writer who grew up in an Orthodox Jewish household, who attended an orthodox Jewish school and whose rabbi father, is less than thrilled with her life choice to become a Hollywood player.

Like a fascinating web that spins out and out, the story is told through Margo’s correspondence, emails, faxes, meeting notes etc. with different people who have a vested interest in the film or a vested interest in Margo.

The project is being financed by a Yiddish Australian tycoon whose reasons are never entirely clear for making the film. Herman Wouk and his wife are major characters and at the end of the book is a very touching tribute by Wouk to his wife, with her picture. One could almost say she was his muse.
Other characters are Margo’s childhood sweetheart, a friend of a friend who becomes a good friend, producers, directors, charlatans and a reluctant low profile Aussie sheep station owner and reluctant but very good actor.

There was one very entertaining sub-story involving a friend from Jewish School and her orthodox husband and their marital highs and lows. Shirley and Avram were thoroughly entertaining and a much needed break in the wheeling and dealing part of the story that centered on Hollywood.
This is a quick read and an easy one. I actually read it in between other books when I needed a quick break from something heavier. This is a pretty fun read. Three and a half stars. ( )
  ozzie65 | Jun 20, 2017 |
Ninety-severn year old revered author Herman Wouk has always dreamed of writing a novel about Moses but has never been able to get a good start on the material. Instead he wrote this delightful fictionalization of the making of a motion picture epic about Moses the lawgiver. He is a character in his own story as he is approached by the money men to approve the script once it is written by the up-and-coming Margo Solovei. Amidst the turmoil of behind the scenes wrangling lies a sweet love story between Margo and Josh, a brilliant young lawyer Margo parted with years ago due to religious differences; he is a devout Jew, Margo not so much. It also features the 60 years loving marriage between Herman and his Betty. The story is written in e-mails, Skype chats, memos and notes which makes for a very fast read. It is humorous and witty but definitely not a story about Moses if that is what the reader is looking for. I found it quite fun. ( )
  Ellen_R | Jan 15, 2016 |
A rare modern example of the antique genre of the epistolary novel. But while the epistolary novels of the 17th and 18th Centuries took the form of a series of letters and/or diary entries, this is the 21st Century. Thus, this plot proceeds via modern media--e-mails, text messages, voicemails, memos, transcripts of business meetings.
Nonagerian author Herman Wouk (best known for The Caine Mutiny Court Martial) weaves a strange story here in which the real Herman Wouk plays a role. The idea is floated to produce a modern retelling of the story of Moses and the exodus of his people from Egypt. Unlike the famous Cecille B. DeMille production of The Ten Commandments, though, this one is intended to strictly adhere to the biblical account. Respected Jewish author Wouk is brought in to validate the authenticity of the script as it evolves. Wouk really doesn't want to do it (he's a 96 year old man hoping to finish one last book of his own before his time runs out), but he's coerced into doing. He tries to distance himself from the project, despite being impressed by the woman who's brought in to write the script.
There's a dynamic religious tension throughout the book. Wouk is a practicing Orthodox Jew. The scriptwriter was raised as one, but she drifted from that path long ago. As the story evolves, however, thing happen.
I was raised in what could have been described as a pretty much homogeneous white bread WASP community (except that most of us were Roman Catholics rather than Protestants), so I've spent the last several years familiarizing myself with Jewish culture in order to better understand that thread that runs through American culture. This book provided a lot of insights.
Worth reading. ( )
  dickmanikowski | Apr 12, 2013 |
As I mentioned when I started reading this book, the name Herman Wouk didn't mean much to me. Yes, I have a goal to read all of the Pulitzer Prize winning novels, so the title of The Caine Mutiny is familiar to me. But when I look at the list, I see titles not authors. Even The Winds of War rings a bell, but as a movie (maybe on TV?). I read The End of Your Life Book Club and Marjorie Morningstar is mentioned a few times, but again...title, not author, is what stuck with me.

So as you can see, I didn't pick this book up because of the 97-year-old author. Nope. It was because I heard it was an epistolary novel. After the great find that was Where'd You Go, Bernadette earlier this year, I was very excited to find another novel told through emails, letters, Skype, texts, etc. I even learned a few things along the way -- Google was my friend more than once while reading The Lawgiver. (Uluru tents? Guadalupe Dunes? Bais Yaakov?)

You're in for a treat with this book. It's just great writing and a sweet story about a group of people attempting to make a movie about Moses. We learn about their lives, their loves, and their friendships. One character in particular is given a lot of attention: the screenwriter, Margo. And I laughed out loud more than once -- which surprised me because I wasn't expecting funny.

I also wasn't expecting tears, but those didn't come until the last page.

A great, fast-paced read. ( )
  melissarochelle | Mar 31, 2013 |
"God was right about Adam: for a man to live alone is not good. I can't spare a rib."

Herman Wouk (yes, that Herman Wouk) has been trying to write a novel about Moses for fifty years. As he finally sits down to start, Hollywood comes hurtling into his life; an eccentric billionaire will bankroll a film about Moses if Wouk will approve the script by unknown ex-Jew Margolit Solovei. Margo's desperation to land the job puts her back in contact with a high school sweetheart and through him, commences a sweet and much-needed confidance with a literary professor. Throw in a naive Australian sheep farmer and a mad English agent; yet somehow romance and creativity prevail over absurdity.

This is really a character study in the somewhat polarised and distorted film world. Margo is a fantastic creation - passionate about her work yet insecure, craving the approval of her father, mentor and idols, yet perfectly happy to throw multiple spanners into works. The novel is tightly cast; no one is extraneous and all contribute to both plot and humour. Possibly my favourite character is gentle-natured Perry Pines, accidentally thrown into the whirlwind of Hollywood, yet clinging stubbornly to the farmland of his youth ("Crooked Creek Farm").

The epistolatory/"collection of evidence" style of writing is one which I've only come across a few times before - it worked very well in The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, and spectacularly in Salmon Fishing in the Yemen, while I wasn't a huge fan of A Visit from the Goon Squad. Suffice to say, the book's got to be quirky before you can think about using this method. Anyhow, it works here - various voices are developed without that inconvenience of having all your characters in one place, or justifying lengthy monologues/stream-of-consciousness.

Similarly, the technique of the author writing himself into the text as a character is both bizarre and gives him an auto-biographical mouthpiece; his anxiety at running out of time is palpable, as is his deep devotion to his wife of 65 years. In a sense, this has aspects of an open love letter to BSW in the same way that The End of Your Life Book Club is an open eulogy. The humour is strong without being forced - I was safe to read this while having my hair cut (no laugh out loud moments) but plenty of little chortles.

I found the deep-running Jewishness at once bizarre and intriguing, isolating, yet with the footnotes, captivating. This is really a novel about being Jewish, as well as being in the film industry (or a reclusive author, or sheep farmer...). I suspect that Jewish readers might find it overly simplistic or even a little insultingly stereotypical, but I'm not Jewish so I can't judge.

Now I have to read Marjorie Morningstar. ( )
  readingwithtea | Jan 27, 2013 |
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A scuffed file in my desk drawer labeled The Lawgiver contains a few typed yellow pages turning brown with age. When I was writing Caine Mutiny, it occurred to me that there was no greater theme for a novel, if I could rise to it, than the life of Moses. The file dates to that time. The years have rolled over me. I have not quailed at large tasks. World War Two and the wars of Israel were sizable challanges, but I took them on. The Lawgiver remains unwritten. I have never found the way to do it.. Other ideas for books I have set aside (no time, no time!), but I still hope against hope for a bolt of lightning, which will yet inspire me to pen my own picture of Maysheh Rabben, the Rav of mankind. __From The Will to Live On, published May 2000
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(Interoffice Memo, 11:20 A.M.) BSW LITERARY AGENCY HW: Sorry to trouble you.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Margo Solovei, a brilliant young writer-director has rejected her rabbinical father's strict Jewish upbringing to pursue a career in the arts. When an Australian multi-billionaire promises to finance a movie about Moses if the script meets certain standards, Margo does everything she can to land the job, including a reunion with her estranged first love, an influential lawyer with whom she still has unfinished business.… (more)

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