Customer Reviews: Inside, Outside: A Novel
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VINE VOICEon January 24, 2001
There's no such thing as a bad book by Herman Wouk, and the breadth of his writing is almost as vast as the depth. To think that one man wrote MARJORIE MORNINGSTAR, THE CAINE MUTINY, THIS IS MY GOD, THE WINDS OF WAR, WAR & REMEMBRANCE, DON'T STOP THE CARNIVAL plus a half dozen others simply boggles the imagination.
Along with DON'T STOP THE CARNIVAL, Wouk's funniest book, INSIDE, OUTSIDE is an easier read than most of the other topics he has tackled. Set in a recent decade, the title refers to the fact that in Jewish families, some people use one name at home, their Hebrew, "inside" name and the Anglicized version of that same name out in the big world. Along with the name chosen go two different and distinctive aspects of their personalities.
It seemed clear on reading INSIDE, OUTSIDE that the hero's sister, Lee, is the all-grown up version of Marjorie Morningstar. This is not Herman Wouk's most important book, far from it, but it is one of his easiest works to read. The story he has told, as always, is an interesting one. There is no such thing as a bad book when Mr. Wouk is the author.
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on July 20, 1998
Inside, Outside is a sometimes rambling but ultimately engrossing story of a young man growing up in New York City in the 1920s and 1930s. Structured as the memoir of a functionary in the Nixon White House, the text cuts between "the present day" (the collapsing administration and the Israel-Egyptian war) and the narrator's reminisinces.
The story is told by Israel David Goodkind, now a high powered corporate and civil rights attorney, then favored son of a Bronx laundryman and his wife, "a rabbi's a daughter". Both his parents are devout jews, his grandfather a Talmudic scholar, and the book's title tells of I. David's split worlds as he struggles with the dubious rewards of assimilation.
The first hundred pages or so seem a bit unanchored, drifting in short chapters from his mother's upbringing to his father's childhood, from late night meetings with Nixon (never mentioned by name) to phone calls from his old childhood chum, the famed Jewish! writer Peter Quat (any resemblance to Philip Roth is purely intentional). But soon the story tightens both in the past as Goodkind leaves Columbia and takes work as a radio gagman, to the present, as Israel goes to war again. The last half is an engrossing read, and ultimately draws close parallels between the story of a young Jewish american and the future of the Jewish state.
If you like Wouk (especially if you have read his primer on the Jewish faith, This is My God) you will probably enjoy Inside, Outside. It's several degrees less instense than the harrowing War and Remembrance, but no less a hymn to Judaism at its core. It's also frequently amusing and often moving in its character portrayals.
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on June 18, 1999
Though this is the story of a Jewish boy growing up in New York, it felt to me that Wouk had met my soul one day and probed it of its deepest thoughts. No book I have ever read has spoken this directly to me. The theme of alienation is one that anyone, anywhere, Jew or Gentile, male or female can identify with.
It also helps that this is one of the funnier books I have read in a long time. It is a true gem.
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on August 19, 2009
I've read numerous works by Herman Wouk and generally been well pleased. On occasion, I've encountered what I consider to be masterpieces (Caine Mutiny for example) and this book belongs in that category. Told from the viewpoint of a very religious and educated Jewish advisor to Richard Nixon during the Watergate crisis, this novel examines the advisor's current life and his background through the use of flashbacks. Both story lines are extremely compelling and the examinations of his early years through anecdotes involving his immigrant Jewish family members (from Minsk and Lithuania) are spellbinding.

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.
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on April 1, 2012
I first read this book when it was published in 1985, and came back to it by chance this year, nearly 30 years later. Then, I enjoyed it but didn't understand its brilliance; now I think I can appreciate it far better.

First, a plea: please judge this story on its own merits, not by ranking it against the many others that Wouk wrote. It's wonderfully written, and should enthrall you; just don't keep wondering if "The Caine Mutiny" was better!

Secondly, don't pay much regard to the Publisher's Weekly description of it as "spanning much of the 20th century". While the narrator is a senior lawyer who in the early 1970s has been recruited into the Nixon White House and undertakes confidential missions to Israel before and during the Yom Kippur war, to a great extent this is simply a device to allow the narrator to look back with maturity on his family and his upbringing, and to tie all the various family threads together in a sort of protracted epilogue distributed over many chapters. The real subjects of the book are the immigration to the United States of a Russian Jewish family well prior to World War II, life in the very close-knit Jewish immigrant community in New York, and the tensions as the immigrants and their children and grandchildren either assimilated or retained their traditions.

I am not Jewish, but growing up in England during WWII I spent many hours with Jewish families who had escaped the Holocaust. Since moving to the United States I have met some of the older generation of immigrants, who escaped with their lives and not much else, and have some idea of what they went through. With the passage of time, this generation is rapidly fading away. These Eastern European immigrants have contributed enormously to American life and culture, and we should be thankful to Wouk for his semi-autobiographical account of those remarkable people.
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on January 1, 2013
I'm a big fan of the great author Herman Wouk after reading his 5 star epics The Caine Mutiny, Winds of War and War and Remembrance. Inside Outside was 644 pages that read well with great character development and great passages of a Jew growing up, his love life, jobs and as he is perceived Inside as a Jew and Outside as a regular human.

Inside Outside was a slower read with less action and excitement than the three earlier mentioned epic great 5 star books.

We see the central characters life past over sixty years of pre war2, ww2 and after WW2. He starts as a gag man writer, eventually goes to law school after passing Columbia University and becomes an aid to President Nixon. We see Nixon's fall after Watergate and his sending in massive military supplies to help Israel before it is destroyed by Egyptian, and Syrian forces supported by Russia. There were some interesting historical parts intermixed with his fictional characters.

Wouk does give lots of Jewish holiday traditions as well as many facts of Jewish religion. Readers interested in the Jewish faith wanting a good novel with interesting fictional characters will like this book. Others who want more excitement with pre WW2 and WW2 battle action will like The Caine Mutiny, Winds of War and War and Remembrance better.

Inside Outside, a good novel... 4 stars and proudly added to our family library.
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on September 14, 2011
As I said in a review of Marjorie Morningstar, Wouk (pronounded "woke") was my favorite living American writer for decades. This book is a treasure of how his eclectic family members lived and interacted. Inside Outside refers to the Jewish tradition of using one name for a person within the community and a different name when outside the community. The history of pogrom and holocaust should make it clear why that practice was adopted. Wouk's books all exhibit the deep love the author has for his characters -- the delightful ones, as well as the curmugeonly or testy ones. His anecdotes sometimes bring a smile to the face of the reader, sometimes a chuckle, sometimes a guffaw. Never will your interest or enjoyment flag. Pick up any of his works, start reading, and you'll understand. His diptych on the war exhibits his precision as a historian and his intimate performance as a U.S. Naval Intelligence offer. Even in that serious work, his characters become persons you wish you knew and you understand how deeply Wouk loves them.
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on July 5, 2001
Fascinating, funny, romantic, wise... This is a stunning exploration of the American Jewish experience - the heartfelt tale of every immigrant torn between the culture of his forefathers and the glorious temptations of a new land's dream. - A grand piece of storytelling-Boston Globe. Rich and compelling-The New York Times. Laugh until your side aches...Wipe away a tear...-Pittsburgh Press
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on January 9, 2016
By turns hilarious and poignant, this quasi-autobiographical book is my favorite Herman Wouk novel. Like narrator and protagonist "David Goodkind", Wouk grew up in an Orthodox Jewish home in New York, began his career as a writer for radio comedy programs (Fred Allen in real life, the fictitious "Harry Goldhandler" here), worked as a speechwriter for Richard Nixon (unnamed in the book, but clearly recognizable). Two story lines run throughout. The framing story is Goodkind flying back and forth between the White House and Jerusalem as a glorified courier for Nixon, while also trying to locate his wayward daughter and trying to write his memoirs. The story inside the frame is Goodkind/Wouk's own coming-of-age in America before and during WW II, with lots of hilarious family anecdotes and meetings with colorful characters on the side. David Goodkind goes through an adolescently rebellious phase against his Orthodox upbringing, but never truly rejects it, and eventually (re-)embraces a form of Modern Orthodox Judaism.
A number of historical (e.g., Golda Meir) and entertainment (e.g. Leslie Howard) figures appear under their real names: Some minor characters are clearly based on figures of his personal acquaintance: the writer Philip Roth ("Peter Quat"), the physicist Richard Feynman, the Israeli nuclear physicist Yuval Neeman, and several others.
There is no real graphic violence in the novel. In places, sexual matters are discussed with surprisingly frankness; some of the jokes and anecdotes are quite ribald (unsurprisingly so for anybody familiar with Yiddish humor); two secondary characters (Goldhandler and Quat) are quite potty-mouthed, fittingly so for their personas.
Wouk's prose is a paragon of deliberate economy of style. When I first read him 20 years ago, I found this aspect a little off-putting: it took me a while to realize that he was writing for maximum readability, not talking down to his readers.
The conceit of the protagonist as a "powerless courier to the high and mighty" --- who thus gets to have a close-up view of history --- also is central to Wouk's possibly best-knows masterworks "The Winds of War" and "War and Remembrance" (naval officer and FDR confidant Victor "Pug" Henry).
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on February 16, 2016
I have many Jewish friends, so this was an informative read as far as understanding traditions of the Jewish faith including Kosher foods. As to historical value, I was reminded of events of days gone by and further back when my parents were young people. The humor that goes along with the story line is sometimes hilarious; other times it's quite subtle. Herman Wouk is one very gifted writer and brings you right into the characters and events as if you were there living it. It is impressive reading how t the protagonist loved and respected his family even though he tested the water on his religious beliefs and then came full circle back to what he knew in his heart was right for him His description of Israel during his visits back and forth were fascinating. I would recommend this book to anyone who is interested in history because of the way he presents such interesting facts that one who is on the "outside" would never have known.
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