Review

The Caine Mutiny: A Novel

by Herman Wouk



I received an "F" on my 9th grade book report on THE CAINE MUTINY.
One would think that I'd hate a book that threatened to smudge my
otherwise pristine academic record, but because of the message,
which to me resounded clearly of "it's okay to buck the system,"
the Pulitzer Prize winning, best-selling novel about World War II
has always held a very special place in my heart. I chose the book
at the suggestion of the assistant city librarian, Sarah Elwell, a
neighbor and good friend of my mother. The Central Junior High
School teacher who gave the assignment didn't count on upstarts
like me having access to the adult stacks in the Public Library
(I'd owned the coveted "A" card since the fifth grade). Thank you,
Sarah, for your guidance, wisdom and courage in the face of the
wrath of Mrs. Whatsername. See? I bear no
grudges.  

Why the "F?" First, THE CAINE MUTINY contained swear words. The
four letter kind --- including a phrase that shall forever remain
in my driving repertoire: "Jesus H. Roosevelt Christ!!" Worse, THE
CAINE MUTINY promoted antiestablishment thought at least a decade
ahead of the '60s free thought movement. It was clearly not
suitable reading material for a well-bred young lady of tender
years.

Meanwhile in the real world, the book launched Herman Wouk's
writing career. The characters and their expressions, nervous tics
and foibles have become a part of Americana. Commander Queeg and
his one-handed ball bearing rolling that drove Ensign Willie Keith
and his shipmates on the ill-fated U.S.S. Caine to the edge of
mutiny clings to the collective memory. Humphrey Bogart was
nominated for an Oscar for his portrayal as Captain Queeg in the
1954 movie, which received nominations in several other
categories.    

The fateful action takes place in the South Seas between September
1943 and December 1944. Wouk, who served under two captains in
World War II on a destroyer minesweeper, apologizes in his forward
for the salty language, which he claims to have severely edited to
prevent "annoying some readers." The book now rightfully appears on
the reading lists of most young readers as a rewarding, enjoyable
chronicle of the U.S. Navy in time of war. And rightfully so. As
for the language and message that so assaulted the tender
sensibilities of Mrs. Whatsername --- it's a very good thing she's
probably no longer around to see today's books.  

One more thanks is in order to Sarah Elwell. She went to bat for
me, and I got an "A."

Reviewed by Roz Shea on January 21, 2011

The Caine Mutiny: A Novel
by Herman Wouk

  • Publication Date: April 15, 1992
  • Genres: Fiction, Historical Fiction
  • Paperback: 560 pages
  • Publisher: Back Bay Books
  • ISBN-10: 0316955108
  • ISBN-13: 9780316955102