(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

Although the principal characters of the novel are a group of heroically selfless and dedicated people, the true protagonist is the long-dispersed nation of Israel, restored at last to its homeland in Palestine despite extraordinary military, political, geographic, and economic hardships. The comings and goings, meetings and partings, triumphs and losses of the various principal characters interweave in a complex assortment of plots, subplots, and counterplots. The action is fast-paced, brutally direct, and unambiguous. All the principal characters suffer, or have suffered, the loss of loved ones, and all bear their grief stoically even as their bereavement motivates them to make ever greater efforts to establish and defend the infant state of Israel.

The novel begins on the island of Cyprus, where most of the major characters initially appear. Kitty Fremont is a nurse on vacation who accepts a position working in a Jewish internment camp on the island because she sees a teenage child there who reminds her of her own dead daughter. This girl is Karen Hansen Clement, whose narrative of her own past provides a vehicle for the author to review the history and atrocities endured by the Jews in Western Europe.

Dov Landau is another child at the camp, an emotionally numbed and embittered survivor of the Warsaw ghetto massacre. His story provides a narrative thread for recounting the events of that bloody confrontation, as well as for the historical background and conditions of life leading up to the Holocaust. The horrors of the concentration camps of Eastern Europe are described in detail.

Kitty’s own story of grief is recalled by a minor character, Mark Parker, who functions as a catalyst to pull a number of major and minor characters into the action of the central plot. He also, as an international journalist, can knowledgeably ponder on the past political events which have led to the situation in 1946, when Jewish refugees were desperately seeking entry into Palestine despite the British blockade. Ari Ben Canaan arrives on Cyprus to develop a strategy to get some of the refugees from Cyprus to Palestine. Mark Parker introduces Kitty Fremont to Ari Ben Canaan and to Brigadier Bruce Sutherland, who is not only the British commander on Cyprus but also a sympathizer with the Jewish cause. (Later, it is revealed that Sutherland’s mother was Jewish.)

The novel is divided into five books, each dealing with a segment of time and a focus of activity paramount in establishing and consolidating the position of the new state of Israel. In the...

(The entire section is 1056 words.)


(Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

It is 1946, and World War II is over. Throughout Europe, Jewish refugees from the Nazi death camps are trying to get to Palestine. The British have blockaded Palestine and interned many of the refugees in camps on Cyprus, where many of them continue to make plans in hopes of reaching Palestine. Ari Ben Canaan works for Mossad Aliyah Bet, the Organization for Illegal Immigration; he has a plan to lead an escape of three hundred Jewish children on a ship renamed Exodus. Ari convinces Kitty Freemont, a slightly anti-Semitic American nurse, and Mark Porter, an American journalist, to help with his plan.

During the war, Kitty’s husband was killed, and her only child died shortly afterward. At first, Kitty is very determined not to help Ari. She tours the refugee camps and meets Karen Clement, a young refugee from Germany who spent the war years hidden as a Christian with a Danish family named Hansen. While in Denmark, she adopted Hansen as her last name, and she has kept it as her middle name. Through her interaction with Karen and especially through hearing the story of Karen’s survival, Kitty learns to love Karen and decides to adopt her. She begins to overcome her anti-Semitism and starts working with Ari, who leads the successful escape. When the children are onboard Exodus, however, the British will not let them sail. The children go on a hunger strike. When the strike fails to convince the British to let them sail, the people onboard Exodus announce that ten volunteers will commit suicide daily until the ship is permitted to leave port. Thanks mainly to articles Mark publishes in American newspapers, world opinion forces the British to allow the ship to sail. Ari and Kitty sail with the children. The people on the ship recall events from their past that exemplify the history of the Middle East and of European Jewry.

In the early twentieth century, Jossi and Yakov Rabinsky walk from Western Russia to Palestine, witnessing and recalling generations of Russian anti-Semitism, including pogroms (organized riots, usually directed against Jews) in which whole Jewish populations are massacred. When they reach Palestine, Jossi changes his name to Barak Ben Canaan....

(The entire section is 903 words.)