Leon Uris Uris, Leon (Marcus) - Essay


(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Leon (Marcus) Uris 1924–

American novelist, dramatist, nonfiction writer, and scriptwriter.

Uris is best known for his popular novels based on events of contemporary history. These books, which are often panoramic in scope and include large casts of characters, are usually concerned with the events of World War II and its aftermath. Some critics have commented on the cinematic qualities of Uris's writing and, in fact, several of his books have been adapted for the screen. Foremost among these is Exodus (1958), Uris's work about the Jewish fight for independence and the resulting foundation of the state of Israel. Exodus was popular with critics and readers alike and became one of the bestselling novels ever published.

All of Uris's books combine fiction with extensive historical data. His first novel, Battle Cry (1953), is a realistic account of Marine Corps life during World War II. This work was an important departure from other war novels in its sympathetic treatment of the military. The Angry Hills (1955), another story about the Second World War, concerns the resistance to the Nazi occupation of Greece. Mila 18 (1961) recreates the Jewish defense of the Warsaw ghetto during the German occupation of Poland. Armageddon (1964) tells of the rebuilding of Berlin. Topaz (1967), a complex spy story, is based on Soviet influence in the French government during the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962. In QB VII (1970) Uris dramatizes a libel suit actually brought against him by a German doctor who claimed to have been maligned in Exodus. Ireland's troubled history from 1840 to 1916 is the focus of Trinity (1976). Uris's recent novel The Haj (1984) examines the Palestinian refugee situation in Israel as it existed until the late 1950s.

Critics dispute neither the popularity nor the readability of Uris's stories. They do, however, question the objectivity of his historical presentations and acknowledge technical flaws in his writing style. Uris has also been charged with creating stereotypical characters and unbelievable dialogue and with displaying propagandist intentions in his work. Sharon D. Downey and Richard A. Kallan have examined the methods Uris uses to develop his ideas and persuade his readers. They conclude that his work is an example of a growing trend in literature in which "documentary" novels and "literary" journalism blur the boundaries between fact and fiction.

(See also CLC, Vol. 7; Contemporary Authors, Vols. 1-4, rev. ed.; and Contemporary Authors New Revision Series, Vol. 1.)

Merle Miller

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Leon Uris has done the nearly impossible. He has written a wonderfully different kind of war novel…. His "Battle Cry" is nearly as long as the other successful treatments of the Second World War; it has many of the same characters and now traditional Anglo-Saxon words, but Mr. Uris is not angry or bitter or brooding. He obviously loves the Marine Corps, even its officers. Thus, he may have started a whole new and healthy trend in American war literature.

Sam Huxley, Mr. Uris's officer as well as one of his heroes, is the fictional commander of the very real Sixth Regiment of the Second Marine Division, and he would have been an easy man to hate. He is hard, and he is harsh, and he discourages intimacy…. He is a Marine first and a human being second, and Mr. Uris has made him considerably larger than but also part of life.

Leon Uris knows that Huxley is the kind of man who wins wars…. (p. 16)

"Battle Cry" has faults. The women, a simple high school girl, a lovable prostitute, a New Zealand widow, an unattractive heiress, are too simple and too foolish. Marion is a caricature, and Gomez is tiresome. What's more, Mr. Uris's book would have been improved by considerable cutting. Almost 200 pages are devoted to the Stateside training. A third or half that many would have been enough.

But, at his best, which is most of the time, Mr. Uris is superb. That glorious and memorable country, New Zealand, comes completely alive, and the combat scenes are terrifyingly real.

Mr. Uris was obviously a good Marine; he's a good novelist, too. (pp. 16-17)

Merle Miller, "The Backdrop Is Victory," in The Saturday Review, New York, Vol. XXXVI, No. 17, April 25, 1953, pp. 16-17.


(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

The conventions of World War II fiction are hardening. Following them, the novelists assemble a group of self-conscious types meant to represent a cross-section of America's regional, racial and social problems. The war novelists continue to show us the types in civilian settings, emphasizing the social data. And then they shift the scenes, and the moral and social values, and take their types to war, to share a common experience. The treatment, by convention, is almost always realistic. If the result is not a novel, it has often turned out to be a social document….

[Mr. Uris'] squad is a squad of Marines, and like almost every writer who comes upon that exotic branch of the service, Mr. Uris has tried to explain its mysteries. This has given his types a second function, and a far wider meaning.

If "Battle Cry" is not an original work of the imagination, it is probably, out of all World War II novels about Marines, the most intimate and accurate account of the way Marines were trained to fight and the way they did fight.

Mr. Uris is savvy about the Corps. He knows the mental anguish and the physical agony of boot camp, and he knows that a Marine's training never stops. He knows and describes how a Marine commander will order his men out for close drill the day after they have returned to a rest camp from a battlefield. Mr. Uris knows that, in the Corps, the tension of discipline is never relaxed....

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Pat Frank

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

I don't know that ["Battle Cry"] does anything to advance American literature, but it makes the Marines understandable.

The first few hundred pages, to my mind the best part of the book, are perhaps the most explicit survey of the training of soldiers that I have ever read, anywhere.

"Battle Cry" takes a cross-section of young Americans, some good, one or two villainous or stupid, and tells how they are molded into a critical section of a fighting machine…. The men of whom Mr. Uris writes comprise the communications section. Some of the characterizations are excellent….

It is unfortunate that "Battle Cry" should fall into the school of latrine fiction. The shocking words are true enough, but they intrude into the thought and flow of imagination and block the reader's comprehension of the story….

However, Mr. Uris has recorded some magnificent battle scenes. He tells what really happens to men when they are hit, and what their thoughts are….

Occasionally Mr. Uris is trapped by clichés; occasionally he lapses into the sentimental, but in this book are passages of great power. It is a book more honest, I believe, than "The Naked and the Dead." He knows his characters. There are no phoney generals, in the literary sense. He knows them all.

Pat Frank, "Tough Story of Transition from Hometown Boys to Men Trained to Kill," in New York Herald Tribune Book Review, May 3, 1953, p. 5.

David Dempsey

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Send an American novelist to Europe, set the time during the German occupation, pick almost any country and make the girl a creature of the Underground and you are pretty certain to get a novel, else what's a writer for? Mr. Uris' Michael Morrison is such a person and "The Angry Hills" is his story—a "suspense" novel with plenty of briskly paced action meted out against a Grecian backdrop under the menacing overhang of war….

As a slam-bang adventure novel, "The Angry Hills" is competently plotted and backed up by some vivid reportorial wartime details. As is the case with most novels of this type, the characters move too fast, and the story is a bit too skeletonized, for us to get more than a two-dimensional view. Also, Mr. Uris has a fondness for getting his hero out of trouble by calling frequently on the local gods of the machine…. (p. 32)

Readers who recall "Battle Cry" will be disappointed if they look for a repeat performance; slice-of-life jumbos with such explosive effect on best-seller lists as that love-song to the Marine Corps are few and far between in any publishing season. Yet, when one remembers the limitations of the novel of counterespionage, it is easy to accept "The Angry Hills" as a superior example of its genre. (p. 33)

David Dempsey, "Unwitting Go-Between," in The New York Times Book Review, October 16, 1955, pp. 32-3.


(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Hmm. Bank balance down. Time to do another Big Novel. But what about?… Got it! Berlin and the airlift. It has flyers and wild blue yonders, and conflict with the Russkies, and a small band of far-seeing Army officers, and fräuleins, and bad Germans and maybe a few good ones this time, and …

Leon Uris' new novel [Armageddon] is the predictable end product of an interior monologue just like that. And it must be conceded that Uris, who once publicly pronounced himself "the most outstanding U.S. writer of today," has succeeded astonishingly in his aim: into this big bad book he has packed away every conceivable stock figure, from the nice Russian officer (Igor) trapped by the system, to the beautiful whore (Hilde) who reforms and then softens the hard heart of the dashing American pilot (Scott, what else?).

Uris put in about three years of research and writing to produce this book. It reads as if it were not written at all but dictated, Napoleon style, at top speed to at least two secretaries at once, and the resulting manuscript corrected with a glass in one hand, a cigar in the other, and no place to hold the blue pencil. Even the title is a piece of mindless sensationalism: Berlin was not a battle, let alone the last one.

Uris piles up countless petty errors of fact, even of grammar ("It's a good thing English has nothing to do with writing" is another Uris pronouncement). The airlift and the gutty Berliners deserve a better chronicler.

"Fresh Off the Assembly Line," in Time, Vol. 83, No. 24, June 12, 1964, p. 118.

Cade Ware

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Like Mr. Uris' other novels, Armageddon is a vast panorama of people, places, situations both fictional and quasi-historic, and romantic sentiment rather easy to come by. It ranges among locales as widely distant as Siberia and Hawaii and portrays such diverse characters as a Berlin lesbian, a martyred Kulak farmer, an American general much like Lucius Clay, a Madison Avenue adman, and Josef Stalin.

Each of these is as much a character in his own right as he is the illustration of a historical factor in Mr. Uris' argument that the Americans were really pretty swell about the whole Airlift business. So subtly does Mr. Uris arrange for nothing to happen that we really don't enjoy happening that the story of an extremely grim episode in European history turns out to be a surprisingly comfortable book.

Mr. Uris has a definite tale for what could be called the premovie novel. His research is detailed, his characters are believable without being overly complicated, his love scenes are intense and numerous though not soupy, and he throws dramatic moment after dramatic moment in a throbbing tempo to which only panoramic technicolor can do justice. If you've enjoyed these qualities in Mr. Uris's books before …, you'll enjoy reading Armageddon. Though, come to think of it, you may like the movie better.

Cade Ware, "The Good Guys Win," in Book Week—The Sunday Herald Tribune, June 14, 1964, p. 16.

Pamela Marsh

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Leon Uris plunges heedlessly ahead, dabbling in half-truths to produce yet another example of the latest non-art form—the propaganda novel.

What he has done in "Topaz" is to take General de Gaulle at a time when his popularity is low in America, assign him an apocryphal but revealing name [Pierre La Croix], make his real identity crystal clear …, and then cast him as a prime villain in a routine spy tale by knitting history and cruel fiction tightly together.

The novel wanders confusingly between the United States, France, Spain, and Cuba with an anti-de Gaullist patriotic French agent as its hero. The date is usually 1962, the chief preoccupation, the Cuban missile crisis, until, thanks to the revelations of a Soviet defector, we are flashbacked to World War II to see how La Croix is manipulated by Soviet agents. And how cleverly Mr. Uris can manipulate history.

Few readers are expert enough to be 100 percent certain where Mr. Uris's imagination has taken over the record. For one of many instances, in history-according-to-Uris, Washington was in on the Franco-British plan to attack Suez and urged the aggressors to capture the canal within 72 hours….

"Topaz," a mixture of history and mystery sensationalized with a scene of torture and one of rape, is high on the best-seller list.

Pamela Marsh, "You Can't Tell Fact from Fiction," in The Christian Science Monitor, November 16, 1967, p. 15.

F. A. Macklin

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Leon Uris' Topaz is an outlandish novel. In an attempt at reality, Uris has wed propaganda and political paranoia.

The basis of the novel is plot; there is little character or mood. The conversations, particularly those between André, the French secret service member, and his wife are unbelievable….

The novel limps throughout its first two-thirds; in the final part, it works in torture and the sudden revelation of a surprise traitor, but there is little sustained conflict. The last third reads like a sketchy movie scenario….

Although attempting a stern, straightshooting novel, Uris' effort is mostly laughable. In a precious gesture of self-aggrandizement, Uris has a character in the novel relate that the truth about Topaz has been given to a novelist who will relay it to the world.

Unfortunately, that novelist who has the truth couldn't possibly be the fanciful author of the present novel.

F. A. Macklin, in a review of "Topaz," in America, Vol. 118, No. 1, January 6, 1968, p. 17.

Christopher Lehmann-Haupt

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

However one reads it, "QB VII" induces tranquility, because a mind absorbed is a body at rest. The question is, How does Leon Uris do it? How does he manage to make so few demands on us in 500 pages? There is art to it. Mr. Uris explains part of the secret about a quarter of the way into "QB VII"—which, by the way, stands for Queen's Bench Courtroom Number Seven, and is, when it eventually gets down to business, a courtroom drama of sorts. Uris's hero is a writer, you see, and he knows a thing or two about writing novels. "And the key trick that few novelists know," Uris explains to us … is that "a novelist must know what his last chapter is going to say and one way or another work toward that last chapter."…...

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Martha Duffy

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

The Jews who have survived pogroms and genocide will doubtless weather this vulgar affront as well. Still, individual Jews who find themselves stuck in Leon Uris' paper detention camp must surely regard QB VII as a rather gratuitous endurance test.

Based on a libel suit that the author actually faced in England over a sentence in his third novel, Exodus, the book pits a Gentile Polish doctor, Adam Kelno, against a famous American Jewish novelist, Abe Cady. During World War II Dr. Kelno was forced to practice medicine in the infamous Jadwiga concentration camp. He sues Cady for libel because of a sentence that strayed into Cady's blockbuster novel, The Holocaust, which casually...

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(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

After eight novels—Battle Cry, The Angry Hills, Exodus, Mila 18, Armageddon, Topaz, QB VII, and Trinity—Leon Uris continues to prompt conflicting assessments. Literary critics disparagingly dismiss his work as something less than "serious."… On the other hand, Uris has nurtured in the last thirty years a loyal American readership which renders almost every Uris novel a runaway bestseller. In short, Uris remains a reader's writer and a critic's nightmare.

The easy and conventional explanation for this discrepancy would be to acknowledge the sorry state of the audience and point to critics as having higher levels of taste. Admittedly, when judged by traditional literary canons, Uris...

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Kirkus Reviews

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

"We Arabs are the worst…." That is the theme of [The Haj, a] crude propaganda-novel … which traces the Palestinian-refugee problem up through 1956—blaming 100 percent of it on the British and the Arabs (Arab greed, decadence, laziness, backwardness, bestiality, etc.), putting the case into the mouths of a few relatively "good" Arabs. The title character is Ibrahim, who becomes the young chieftain of the Palestinian village Tabah in 1922. He feels affection for Gideon Asch, the noble Haganah leader who watches over the nearby kibbutz…. But, culture-bound and constantly threatened by rival Arab leaders, Ibrahim must reject Gideon's offers of aid and friendship. Meanwhile, Ibrahim's youngest son...

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Evan Hunter

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Leon Uris's "The Haj" could have been a different and far better book. Returning to the scene of his huge 1958 best seller, "Exodus," Mr. Uris attempts here to explore a Palestine in tumultuous upheaval between 1944 and 1956, hoping to shed light on what still remains a bewildering political and religious impasse. The illumination he provides, however, is so thoroughly dimmed by a severely biased viewpoint that the book loses all power as a work of fiction and all credibility as an objective study of that depressing and continuing deadlock.

The hero—if he can be called such—of the novel is Haj Ibrahim al Soukori al Wahhabi, muktar (or head) of the village of Tabah, close by the Shemetz...

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Jane Stewart Spitzer

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Leon Uris's novels "Exodus" and "Trinity" moved me, captivated me, and kept me up late at night. I expected his latest, "The Haj," to have the same effect, and I was very disappointed that it didn't.

The story failed to capture my interest until I was almost halfway through it, and I never got fully caught up in it. The writing is surprisingly poor; many of the characters never come to life, and Uris continually hits the reader over the head with his prejudices against the Arab world and Islam….

The opening chapters are confused, because Uris jumps around in time and switches viewpoints continually. Granted, in order for a reader to understand the historical events in which the...

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Jerry Adler

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

"So before I was nine I had learned the basic canon of Arab life," says Ishmael, the young Palestinian boy who narrates about half of Leon Uris's new Zionist figburner ["The Haj"]. "It was me against my brother; me and my brother against our father; my family against my cousins and the clan …" and so forth, for most of the remaining 500-odd pages of this extended study in treachery, bigotry, obsequiousness, ignorance and sheer malevolence among the Arabs…. [All] of these vices come naturally to the Arabs in this book. They are Uris-Arabs, a species familiar to readers of Uris's early epic "Exodus." In intellect, the difference between a Uris-Arab and his camel is not great and in morality the camel wins by a...

(The entire section is 434 words.)