Herman Wouk, decorated novelist behind 'The Caine Mutiny,' dies at 103

New York (AFP) –


Pulitzer Prize-winning author Herman Wouk, known for his portrayals of Jewish-American life and blockbuster World War II novels, died Friday, his agent said. He was 103 years old.

The centenarian "passed away peacefully in his sleep," his agent Amy Rennert told AFP, calling Wouk "a giant among writers" and saying that up until a month ago he was working on his next book.

His son Joseph Wouk posted a photo on Facebook of himself and his dad, who died 10 days before his 104th birthday, along with the text: "My beloved father, Herman Wouk."

Wouk's acclaimed 1951 work "The Caine Mutiny" -- inspired by his time aboard a high-speed naval warship based in the Pacific during World War II -- won the coveted Pulitzer for fiction.

The bestseller was adapted into a successful 1954 film starring Humphrey Bogart, as well as a Broadway play and made-for-television movie.

Born in the Bronx to Russian-Jewish immigrants in 1915, Wouk earned a bachelor's degree from Columbia University in philosophy and comparative literature, also writing for the college's humor magazine. After graduating, he began working as a radio dramatist.

He joined the US Navy following the Pearl Harbor attack.

"I would spend many of the nights looking out at sea and being stirred with thoughts and I began to think there was a book to be written that would be like 'War and Peace,'" Wouk told National Public Radio in 2016.

"At that time I didn't think at all that it would be something for me to write, but nevertheless I got the feeling that there was a whole other kind of writing to do."

- 'Revered forever' -

He went on to write several books that were some thousand pages long, including "The Winds of War" and "War and Remembrance," both of which inspired television adaptations.

In 1955's "Marjorie Morningstar," he wrote of a young Jewish girl in the 1930s aspiring to break into show business, a novel turned into a 1958 romance film starring Natalie Wood and Gene Kelly.

Inspired by Mark Twain and Alexandre Dumas, he also drew on memories of his father's studies of the Talmud, a primary source of Jewish religious law and theology.

"His celebrated World War II classics stand among the greatest American novels, and his exploration of his Jewish faith and his insatiable curiosity about science and the Universe contributed to an indelible body of work," Rennert said. "His books will be read, beloved and revered forever."

His wife of more than six decades -- Betty, who went by her Hebrew name Sarah -- was his longtime literary agent before she died in 2011.

"I would say my literary career and my mature life both began with her," he told NPR in 2012.

In his final work -- a slim memoir entitled "Sailor and Fiddler: Reflections of a 100-year-old Author" -- Wouk reflects on his lengthy career and offers advice to young writers, calling literature "a crapshoot."

"The view from 100 is, to this centenarian, illuminating and surprising," he writes. "With this book I am free: from contracts, from long-deferred to-do books, in short, from producing any new words."

"I have said my say, done my work."