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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 first book, “Beyond Jordan,” the plight of the refugees and their urgent longing to get to Palestine provide the major themes. The plot deals with the cunning, the courage, and the self-sacrifice of the principal characters and of many minor ones as they secure a ship, outwit the British to get three hundred children on board, and then begin a children’s hunger strike. By means of worldwide publicity, the British are pressured into permitting the boat to sail to Palestine.

Book 2, “This Land Is Mine,” deals with the settlement in Palestine of the Jewish refugees. Here the story reverts to the days of the earliest settlements, when Jews fled the pogroms in Russia, traveled to Palestine, and settled peacefully among the Arabs on farms or in small villages. This bit of history is narrated as the story of the Rabinsky brothers, Jossi and Yakov, who fled the Ukraine after Yakov killed a local schoolmaster who had incited his students to attack Jews in the town and who thus was responsible for the death of Simon Rabinsky, father of Jossi...

(This entire section contains 1056 words.)

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and Yakov. Once in Palestine, the two brothers adopt divergent ways of living. Jossi becomes a farmer and a moderate, conciliatory political leader, while Yakov becomes a militant radical, a leader of the Maccabees, who are adamantly opposed to any compromise with either the Arabs or the British. A third component of the immigrant Jewish community is discussed in passing, but without identification with any of the major characters. That component is the Orthodox pacifist group, who, throughout the rest of the novel, are depicted as gentle, unworldly souls for whom responsibility and care must be assumed by the activist factions.

The theme of fulfillment and possession of a homeland is embodied in Jossi Rabinsky, who takes the name Barak Ben Canaan and settles on a farm adjacent to an Arab village. There he rears his children and befriends the neighboring Arabs.

The next major step in settlement is described in Book 3, “An Eye for an Eye,” when the children from the ship, the Exodus, are placed in kibbutzim to grow up in a wholesome atmosphere and to develop the land to be productive. Karen, Kitty, and Dov are all at the same kibbutz, and later in the story, Jordana Ben Canaan is assigned there. Kitty and Ari repress the attraction they feel for each other, but Jordana senses it and is openly hostile to Kitty, whom she feels lacks the steely toughness and dedication to Israel which the Sabras and the immigrants possess. Book 3 also describes the political and military maneuvers that the Jews conduct with respect to the British and Arabs, and the growing militancy of the Jewish people as they encounter increasing opposition from both sources.

Book 4, “Awake in Glory,” includes the drama of the United Nations vote for the partition of Palestine, the declaration of the founding of the state of Israel, and the subsequent War of Liberation fought with the Arabs, who rejected the vote and refused to accept Israel as a nation. The action centers on the exploits of the outnumbered, underequipped Israeli soldiers, who had to use cunning more than might in order to win their battles.

Book 5, “With Wings as Eagles,” offers a bittersweet promise for the future. The fighting winds down but never entirely ceases, and the hostility and menace of the Arabs hover ever near. Thousands of immigrants, needing care, provisions, support, and jobs, are pouring in each day. Karen, the embodiment of love and generous concern for others, is senselessly killed in an Arab raid. The other major characters, however—excepting Barak, who is also dead—gather for Passover and, briefly dropping their tough stance, express their love and concern for one another and their intent to renew their efforts to make Israel flourish.