Saturday, April 2, 2011

Exodus - Leon Uris

 Oh writers block how I despise thee! So many books have mine eyes purveyed and yet the grey matter behind them fails and won't let my fingers do any keyboard waltzing!! I have so far only posted five reviews and yet by this stage I had hoped to have had at least thrice that. I have certainly done the reading but am stuck with an inability to put into words my thoughts and appraisals on said literature. Bugger!!

Exodus for me is one of the Twentieth Century's greatest novels. It is not literature in the sense of Dickens, Tolstoy, Dumas and company, because I believe that style of writing is now confined to history. In the last century writers became mere story tellers rather than actual writers. I do read modern novels but I'm very choosy and only read the classics, such as Bonfire of the Vanities, and the absolutely brilliant I, Claudius and Claudius the God, as examples. Massed produced, popular novels, I avoid because they are too blandly written, so no Da Vinci Code for me thank you very much!!  

 Leon Uris for me really brought the non-fictional historical novel into the mainstream audiences radar. There have been others before him, but Uris took the genre further than anyone before or since. His research and understanding of the subject matter are phenomenal, and I am in envy of his ability! Exodus came about because Uris was sent to Israel as a journalist to write articles about the events of 1948.

 His observations led to the writing of Exodus, and not only Exodus, but a raft of superb historical novels like Mila 18, Armageddon, The Haj, and Trinity. All great historical novels in their own right, but Exodus is the best of them all. I first read Exodus in high school when I was seventeen and again about six years later. I dug out my battered old copy last year and read it again after a very long hiatus. I had forgotten much, but when I finished I had a new appreciation for it. Many years of history based reading ( and a bit on middle eastern history ), helped me understand Exodus more than when I was younger.

 The great thing about historical novels is that are based around very real events, people, and places. Inadvertently then the reader can learn a lot of factual material, all with in an easier writing and reading style than a non fiction book would provide. Uris in Exodus goes into simple explanations of Jewish words, events, and their origins, such as kosher, the Jewish 'pale' in Russian cities, pogrom, diaspora, etc and also the origins and history of the Maccabees, and Haganah. All extremely interesting and a minor history lesson in novelised form.

 Leon Uris is the master of this type of writing and it is why I have always been drawn to his works. His attention to detail is staggering as is his plain desire to get the facts right. He doesn't play with history to suit the novel but fits his characters into the framework of historical events. For instance the bombing of the King David Hotel was and he uses his characters within the actual events. I like how he has two brothers live through a pogrom in Russia, after which they leave and trek to Palestine. There they fall out over how to gain independence for Israel, either through violence or diplomacy.

 There is also an extremely vivid and quite brilliant portion of the book written about the Holocaust. It describes the plight of a young Jewish girl who is hidden in Denmark. After the war ends she ends up in a displaced persons camp and learns about the death camps. Uris's descriptions are perfect and very much like Kunte Kinte's slave ship experiences in Roots, it is absolutely harrowing reading. It may be a novel but it reads exactly like any non-fiction work on the Holocaust. It is several chapters long and it is brutal stuff. It leaves you quite literally shaking with dis-belief and horror.

 The scale and sweep of the novel is outstanding. It is as good as Gone With the Wind or War and Peace. It is obviously about the birth of modern day Israel and all sides are written about. The British view point is looked at through the eyes of British officers involved. The British mandate is skillfully inter-woven into the narrative as to not be boring or out of place as a stand alone piece of information. The Palestinian reaction is looked at and for my little amount of knowledge seems correct. At the time they were fighting among themselves and didn't see the Jewish threat. They then basically handed Palestine over to the Jews without a fight, recognising their mistake far too late.

 It is a Jewish story so the book is prominent in their side of things. It goes into how they broke in the land, and it is quite clear this wasn't the land of milk and honey of the bible. The land was barren and it is incredible that the Jews who broke Israel in done so not for themselves, but for future generations of Jews. Quite amazing and inspirational stuff. The Kibbutz system is explained, and there are some great passages on how the Jews settled them and turned the land from desert into fertile country.

  Uris's eye for detail is staggering and I learnt so much about the birth of modern day Israel from this novel. Uris though doesn't fall into the trap of favoritism. He is on neither side, and as stated he explores each sides take on things and the problems they faced. After reading this the reader can fully understand the modern problems within Israel and sympathise with all the parties involved. I personally don't have a side I favour over the other. It is an historical problem and both sides have made mistakes. I'm interested in Jewish history, anti-Semitism, and especially the Holocaust. Exodus is an out standing novelisation of the three.

  Brilliant, quite brilliant. Leon Uris is the master writer of the historical novel and Exodus is his masterpiece. It is without question one of the greatest novels of the last century and once read it is never forgotten. It is a searing account of the Holocaust and the subsequent events leading to the establishment of modern day Israel in 1948. I believe this is the second biggest selling novel in the U.S after Gone With the Wind. I think that says it all about Exodus. It was also made into a film starring Paul Newman in 1960. I haven't seen it but I believe it isn't too bad. It is certainly an ambitious book to make a film from.

 This is an approachable, well written, must read. Put it on the list immediately.


  1. another interesting review and great book :)

  2. I just happened upon this site while looking up something about Exodus. It's so true: once read, it's never forgotten. I read it in 8th grade, and it has stayed in my mind ever since, and drove a lifelong curiosity about the Holocaust (I'm not Jewish) and historical fiction that is still with me today (I'm 56 now). Exodus is a masterpiece. Someday when I ever have time, I'll read it again.

  3. I was thinking about this book in light of recent events. At what point is the line best drawn re: when to negotiate peacefully and when to fight back? What if the fight against bigotry and tyranny had begun sooner? What lessons do we take today as Neo-Fascist movement appears to be on the rise? This great book informs the issue, and should be on reading lists everywhere. Unforgettable.