From Pulitzer Prize-winning American author Herman Wouk, Inside, Outside is a rich and compelling story - beautifully focused and often hilarious.... Israel David Goodkind is a minor bureaucrat in the Nixon White House, killing empty office time by writing the story of four generations of his large, sprawling Russian Jewish immigrant family. As he recounts his brief stint in show business, his torrid affair with a showgirl, and his encounters with a hassled and distracted President Nixon, Goodkind also witnesses historical events firsthand - the Watergate scandal, the Yom Kippur War - and eventually finds his way back to his Jewish faith. Combining Wouk's wildly funny streak with deeply religious passages - and some intensely intimate romantic scenes rare in this reticent author's work - Inside, Outside is a striking departure from the traditional storytelling mode in which the author has won international fame, and yet it may be the most truly characteristic of all his writings. Written in the first person in a free-form, often ribald style, playing antic tricks with time, it offers all the passion, depth, historical detail, and humor that has made Wouk a best-selling author around the world.
I’ve read numerous other novels (some by Wouk) focusing on Jewish characters that were much more difficult to read, due to the extensive reference to Jewish culture and Yiddish terminology. That is not the case with this novel. Where cultural disconnects are possible, Wouk goes to great pains to explain them. As a gentile, I found this book remarkably easy to read and understand, even in the deepest recesses of Old World Jewish enclaves.
The title of the book refers to the authors dual life, both “inside” the confines of his religious cocoon and “outside”, in the secular world where his advanced intelligence and education have allowed him to rise to the top of his profession (tax attorney) and into a role in the Nixon administration (despite his Democratic politics). The internal tensions involved in both of these dichotomies are fascinating as they play out through the novel.
Of additional interest are the historical events which provide the backdrops for the novel. The aforementioned Watergate crisis is a constant factor in the author’s “current” life, as is the 1973 Yom Kippur War between Israel and the surrounding Arab states. The Great Depression is a looming force in the flashbacks to his past. All in all, an outstanding novel and one that I highly recommend.
FAVORITE QUOTE(S): Lee thrives on her grudges; I guess they generate adrenaline, which is good for her arthritis, and it's free, unlike cortisone, which costs like the devil. // "We're home." Those are perhaps the sweetest words in human speech after "I love you." // Jake was Jewish. He had to be, he an accent like my father's. Anyway, he felt Jewish. I don't know how else to put it. // My public library card, I should explain, was the joy of my life. I had long since read through all the fairy tales and boys' books, and lately had been taking out the fattest books I could find- I guess, to impress the librarians. // A young man traveling with money in his pocket collects girls as a blue serge suit picks up lint.