Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Armageddon - Leon Uris

 I have written these reviews in the order of which I read them, which coincidentally was the order in which Leon Uris wrote them. As stated in the Mila 18 review if you are to read these three novels, which are inter-related historically, then I would start with Mila 18, then move on to Exodus, and then finally Armageddon.

 The books are not carry ons from one another and are completely separate novels. For me these three novels are amazing in having been written so close to the events they portray, and of their accuracy. Exodus was published in 1958, Mila 18 in 1961, and Armageddon in 1963. They are still as accurate today as they were then. Again I can only be in awe of Uris' attention to detail and his painstaking research and the subsequent historical accuracy. Both of these strengths are why his novels are some of the greatest written of the Twentieth Century. Suffice to say if I could even have a fraction of Uris' talent as a historical fiction novelist then he would be my mentor and the writer who I would wish to most emulate!

 Armageddon is the somewhat forgotten novel of Uris' early writing career. Coming on the heels of both Exodus and Mila 18, Armageddon found itself in the unenviable position of having big boots to fill. Much like a film maker who makes a masterpiece, the public expects each subsequent film to be the same. Fortunately, Armageddon filled those big boots and is as good as both its better known predecessors.

 Of the three I really struggle to find a favorite. Exodus is the obvious choice, and I would place Armageddon second. Mila 18 isn't quite as good as them and must rest in third spot. But ultimately it is a futile exercise because they are each superb novels and can't really be judged against one another.

 Armageddon is about post-war Germany. It spans the period from Germany's 1945 surrender to the end of the 1948 Berlin airlift. It must be remembered that while the events of this novel were going on the events of Exodus were coinciding in Israel. It is a good thing to keep this in mind as it gives a great depth to history and its vastness. In both novels we have two major world events happening at the same time.

 This novel starts with a young American officer who has a dislike for Germans sent to a town in Germany to start de-Nazification and the rebuilding of the town. The town has a small concentration camp on its outskirts and Uris cleverly uses the local German denials of it existence to mirror collectively those of Germans and Germany after the war. The usual 'we didn't know', 'we were just following orders', etc,  comes from the towns people even though the stink of death is wafting from the camp. The local high and all mighties show up denying all knowledge or culpability, and yet show no remorse to the death of the Jewish inmates. They even go as far as too say, with a seriously straight face, 'they were just Jews and got what they deserved'. So much for denials.

 They then have the temerity to think they are in a position to push the Americans around. Because they were in positions of authority before, and during, the war, they state they should carry on in those positions. Their membership of the Nazi party is of course conveniently forgotten as they try to deflect blame from themselves. All the time they are still Nazi at heart and feel no shame for their crimes. The Americans are hit hard with the realisation at how difficult the Nazi poison is going to be to expunge. What Uris writes is very true and it did happen. I have personally read much of post-war Germany and how the Germans tried to act like ostriches by burying their heads in the sand and pretending it didn't happen. They learnt very quickly that is was easier to be a perpetrator and not a victim. Deny, deny, deny, became the watch word of the times.

 The de-Nazification of Germany was a difficult task. Of course there were never any Nazis in Germany after the surrender!!!!.. or so the Germans would have led their conquerors to believe. The first part of the book is outstanding in portraying the initial reactions of the German people to their defeat and their denials of all the crimes committed in their name. Uris is the absolute master on condensing this country wide epidemic into a fictionalised town and setting that mirrors that of Germany as a whole.. He makes it understandable, and the reader, being all too familiar with the post war German reaction, cannot but feel disgust and revulsion at the Germans and their leadership.

 It is a brutal look at a very unsavory time in German history. It pulls no punches and nor should it. The Holocaust and all the other crimes against humanity committed by Germany can not be hidden and will never be erased from its history. Uris doesn't delve into finger pointing or straight out German bashing. He doesn't need to because the facts were clear for the world to see. Uris just paints them in an unblemished fashion.

 From there Uris moves to post-war Berlin and the lives of the Berliners themselves. And from them it is natural progression to the relationship between the American and Soviet occupiers. He describes the fall of Berlin from the view point of a German family. There is a wife and two daughters who are raped by Russians soldiers. It isn't pleasant reading but totally factual as the Russians were in no mood to be conciliatory towards the German people for the crimes committed against their own. The novel then moves from this important to understand period ( from the German point of view ), into the start of the Cold War. Berlin is where it all started and Uris again is on the ball.

 Berlin lies in ruins and it is quite ironic that a flattened city should be fought over in a battle of words and wits. The Soviets occupied a quarter of Berlin and entirely surrounded the rest. As time went by they felt that they should occupy all of Berlin and tried all sorts of sneaky under hand tricks to get the other three powers out. The novel goes through them all and the American reactions to defeat them. It is all but farce and today we can only shake our heads at it all. But in the post-war world the tensions were very real and got to the point of another shooting war.

 The Soviets finally realise that being sneaky isn't going to get them Berlin. So they blockade the only access road open to the western powers into Berlin. This is what set off the Berlin Airlift. Uris novelises it by introducing pilots and others who were involved in airlifting supplies to the Chinese during the war over the so called 'hump', the Himalayas. He accurately describes their war time experiences and how they applied them to a Berlin in the midst of a deep winter. They had to supply a population of two million people and what they accomplished was nothing short of a logistical miracle.

 There are a wealth of good and quite approachable books written on the airlift but Armageddon is a very good place to start in getting some background within an easily read, novelised form. The novel ends before the actual airlift but by that stage the Allies had perfected their system so much that the population was obviously not going to starve. It is illustrative that the Allies were not overly concerned about German lives ( after all, the war had just finished and the German crimes still fresh in the victors mind ), as it was a 'flick the birdie' to the Soviets and their bullying.

 Armageddon is so much like Exodus in its scale and sweep. It is a huge novel that compresses a large segment of history into a few easily read pages. Armageddon, Exodus, and Mila 18 are still relevant novels and have not dated in the slightest. History is recorded and dated and can't be changed after all.  I recommend anyone who wishes to understand the subject matters of these three novels, but who is a lay man on them, to read these first as they perfectly sum up the times and makes them approachable to all. Leon Uris is the best at the historical novel genre. He has never been topped and probably never will be. He is one of my most favorite novelists. I highly, highly recommend him and his fine works to all. 


  1. I am a huge fan of Leon Uris and have read all of his novels and a few many times over. Could you recommend another author with similar style?
    BTW great reviews of all his novels!!! I have a few Gore Vidal books but they are relatively boring reads compared to Mr. Uris.

    1. I am a little surprised at the omission of Herman Wouk. The Caine Mutiny is an excellent introduction to his style, then you could move on to his sweeping WWII novels, The Winds of War and War and Rememberance, and his novels about Israel, The Hope and The Glory. His lighter fare, such as Marjorie Morningstar and City Boy, offer great views of the social aspects of points in our history. Wouk offers great characters and historical details, stories that sweep you up. They are more about the coming of age of their characters as they move through important points in our history than a commentary on events, but if you like Leon Uris you will enjoy Herman Wouk.

  2. Hi..sorry for not relying a bit sooner I have been a bit busy. Leon Uris is damn hard to beat and I have not really found another writer of historical fiction like him.
    My suggestions would be to give Edward Rutherford and James Clavell a try. Clavell wrote King Rat which is very good, and especially Shogun. Shogun is over 1000 pages long and is a mighty epic of feudual Japan. I highly rcommend it.
    Rutherfrod has written London, The New Forest ( which I particularly liked ), Dublin, New York, etc. They are of a distictive style and still readable. London is quite reasonable aas it traces the history of London through several families from Roman times to the Blitz. That is alot of history so I hope that it will satisfy you!!
    Thanks for stopping by and commenting. I had hoped to update for often but I haven't had the time. So come back againsome time!!

  3. very good review, i think i want to read this book

  4. i like reading reviews about leon uris books. for me he was a master that can and never will be surpasssed. exodus, mila 18, trinity, QB V11 u name it. all master pieces depite the fact that they were writte a long time ago

  5. TOPAZ is another one - about cuban blockade.
    this comment is coming as late as the novel is old.

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