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20 March 2015

Herman Wouk: The Hope

A classic view of the early years of Israel
This is a fantastic historical fictional novel about the early troubled years of the State of Israel. Herman Wouk takes us from the 1948 Arab-Israeli War after the UN vote that recommended the partitioning of Israel, through Israeli cooperation with France and Britain and invasion of Egypt during the Suez crisis, to the bloody but overwhelming victory of the Six Day War.

Wouk has a magic touch in being able to seamlessly integrate fictional and real historical characters with both insight and compassion in action-packed environments. David Ben Gurion, Moshe Dyan, Golda Meir and West Point trained US Army colonel "Mickey" Marcus (who was Israel's first military chief of staff during the 1948 Arab-Israeli War), are larger than life.

Fictional characters include Austrian born Zev Barak, an Army officer, later military attaché in Washington; Sam Pasternak, born in Czechoslovakia - a combat officer, later in military intelligence and a renowned womaniser; Benny Luria, born in Moshe Dayan's moshav who becomes an Air force pilot and leads a squadron that destroyed the Egyptian air force within minutes of the start of the Six Day War; and Benny's beautiful sister Yael (who has also been an Army officer), caught between a love of Israel, her family and the magnetic attractions of living the high-life in the US.

The most fascinating fictional character is Polish born Yossi Nitzan, fresh out of the refugee camps of Europe who turns up at the front in the 1948 War as "a lanky bespectacled dust-covered boy of sixteen or so, wearing a rusty British tin hat and mounted bareback on a muddy white mule.". He is immediately nicknamed "Don Kishote" (Quixote in Hebrew) and volunteers for the war - "I'm eighteen. Give me a gun." Kishote eventually becomes a paratroop leader in the Suez war and a Tank Commander in the Six Day War.

This is edge-of-seat adrenaline-packed authentic historical action written by one of the World's best storytellers. Of course Wouk writes from a Jewish perspective backed up by vital knowledge about the various ways the Jewish religion is practiced. It is this comprehensive perspective of Jewish life that helps to explain the painful birth of modern Israel.

I was captivated when I read this book when it was first published in 1993 and was even more captivated when I read it again recently. I plan to revisit the sequel THE GLORY very soon. Both books would have been given six stars if that was permitted.

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