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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.)
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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...
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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.
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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. And he knows that, to a Marine, what he does is never quite so important as the way he is made to do it.
In Mr. Uris' most exciting chapter, his squad is not fighting a battle. They are on a hike, and not a particularly long hike. But they are speed-marching at a pace that tests first their physical and then their emotional endurance. To what purpose? Apparently to beat a record set by another battalion. But really each man is proving in his mind's eye—not himself, but whether he is a Marine….
The final test, but not necessarily the most trying, is the battlefield itself. Mr. Uris' men first write their names in blood on a childish pact, and then on the beaches of Tarawa and Saipan. By then their civilian problems are hard to remember. And there they find an end, if not a solution to them all.
George McMillan, "Tension Never Eases," in The New York Times Book Review, April 26, 1953, p. 5.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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."…
[It's] pretty clear that "the key trick" works all sorts of magic for Leon Uris.
For one thing, having his last chapter clearly in view keeps Mr. Uris's mind (and ours) off the problem of language, which can be distracting sometimes to a novelist who stops to think about it. Where writers who don't know how their novels are going to turn out sometimes start fiddling with the meanings of words, Mr. Uris is always satisfied with what first came to mind, as well as with what probably never got there at all. Thus, he is free to write that editors are of "legendary proportions" (the size of Polyphemus, one assumes he means); that "there were gray hairs in her head now. He had put them there with his own paint brush of misery"; that "his nostril was pelted with the odor of slabs of freshly pressed rubber, pepper, and sacks of bat dung collected from the caves by the ingenious Chinese and sold as fertilizer"; and so forth….
For another thing, with his plot so carefully mapped out, Mr. Uris need never worry about his characters assuming independent life and taking his story away from him. And they never do; they are humbly obedient to his purpose throughout. Thus Adam Keino is a miserable drunkard tie-dying his wife's hair gray in one chapter, and a sobered-up, dedicated doctor being knighted by the Queen in the next. Thus Abraham Cady can make his prestigious switch from burnt-out Hollywood hack to "a Jew" who "wants to write about Jews."
Thus Mr. Uris has all the space in the world to tell us how much he disapproves of American taxi-drivers and experimental literature, the breakdown of middle-class values, the breakdown of the Chicago police, pollution and Judge Julius Hoffman. Fortunately, he does do us the favor of giving his characters different names, so we can tell them apart—except when they get bunched up in scenes together.
But best of all, by knowing the sins Mr. Uris keeps his story from degenerating into a real conflict. Oh, he tries to fool us for awhile there by pretending that the Polish doctor, Adam Kelno, had humanitarian reasons for removing the ovaries and testicles of Jewish inmates in the Jadwiga concentration camp. But we know, we somehow know, that when Abe Cady writes "The Holocaust" describing Dr. Kelno as a collaborator with the Nazis, and Dr. Kelno sues Cady for libel, and the case becomes the most important in English judicial history—we somehow know who's going to win….
The trouble is: Knowing all along with Mr. Uris where "QB VII" is headed in its final chapter, what are we as readers supposed to do for entertainment in the meantime? That's what I was trying to explain when I said the book was so relaxing. You can do anything you like while reading it. In fact, you needn't even bother to read it at all.
Christopher Lehmann-Haupt, "How to Write a Leon Uris," in The New York Times, December 2, 1970, p. 45.
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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 charges Kelno with performing "15,000 or more experimental operations without use of anesthesia."… After setting up these pasteboard people, Uris embarks on a lengthy trial scene in which the grisly camp testimony unfolds.
Many of QB VII's sins are standard for the genre. The prose is an illiterate shorthand…. The plot is interstitched with editorials, sermons and lessons in writing….
Still Uris' fictional caveats—rung in through Abe's conversations with his British publisher—seem absurdly at odds with his own wretched writing performance this time out. According to Uris, what most writers apparently forget is basic storytelling—a skill he himself once practiced but has neglected in this heavily predictable tale. Then there is that literary creation Author Abe himself, a mensh who makes Hemingway seem as mousy as Mann….
Abe emerges, finally, as the shining avenger of Jewish wrongs, despite the fact that he is technically guilty of libel since the number of Kelno's crimes did not approach 15,000 and Abe, who cannot recall the doctor at all when charged, does not even know how that pesky sentence got into his book in the first place.
The result of Abe's fecklessness is a roundup of Kelno's victims, who must come to London to relive their tortures in court…. [Their testimony accounts] for pages and pages of excruciatingly detailed descriptions of sexual organs and agony. In reality it is the documentation of an atrocity, but in slapdash fiction it is only sadomasochism. Which is a popular theme in popular novels these days.
Martha Duffy, "Bestseller Revisited," in Time, Vol. 97, No. 26, June 28, 1971, p. 80.
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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 is a poor writer. But that Uris's critics are at odds with his readers does not necessarily mean the latter have lower standards; it is equally plausible to assert they merely embrace different standards…. [While] surface appearances suggest that Uris's is a simple message packaged in a simple style, it unfolds, ironically, through complexity, necessitating a cognitive and affective sophistication by creating a reading experience wherein elements must be processed into a coherent reality. (p. 192)
Uris's work may best be understood if seen as representing a form which fuses fictional and external worlds, producing in effect a relationship between writer and reader—which we call semi-aesthetic detachment—wherein the demands of the former and the expectations of the latter deviate significantly from the "contract" underscoring traditional literature. The form may not be unique to Uris, but neither Uris nor the form has received much rhetorical attention…. [Literature such as Uris's] addresses an immediate, specific, external world concern and envisions its audience as capable of effecting change through an outwardly directed reader response. (pp. 192-93)
The plight of Jews is one major injustice Uris attempts to resolve…. Addressing what he calls "the great American public," Uris wrote four novels about the Jewish experience which portray past injustices and attempt to deter future ones: Exodus, a story about Israel's inceptional period and her fight for independence; Mila 18, a recreation of the Warsaw ghetto uprising; Armageddon, a chronicle of post World War II Germany and the Berlin Airlift; and QB VII, an account of sexual sterilization experiments performed on Jews at Auschwitz.
The dominant theme of these works is that the Jew must live in sovereignty. Throughout, Uris contends that Jewish survival rests on the establishment and maintenance of a sovereign state—the ultimate solution/deterrent to injustice against Jews…. In a sense, Uris reflects the Jewish hope from the time they were scattered 2,000 years ago: Israel must be reborn. (p. 194)
Once Jewish autonomy became a reality with the birth of Israel, the problem shifted to maintaining that sovereignty, a sovereignty seemingly forever in jeopardy. Uris, in fact, continually reminds the reader of the immediacy of the problem, noting that his novels recreate not past history, but "living" history, documenting persistent threats to Jewish homeland. QB VII character, author Abe Cady, echoes the philosophy matter-of-factly: "You learn to live with it [the Middle East uncertainty]. When I was writing The Holocaust, Shawcross [Cady's publisher] would get into a dither every time a new crisis came up, and he'd badger me for the manuscript. I told him, don't worry, whenever I finish the book, the Jews will still be in trouble."
Uris contends that the problem must be confronted by the West and, in particular, America because America's own moral and physical survival is linked to Israel's sovereignty…. America, Uris argues, is bound not only ideologically but emotionally and pragmatically to support Israel. Armageddon's General Hanson underscores the obligation when he observes, "It is going to take time for our countrymen to realize that Americans can never go home again." As leading advocators of democracy, Americans share, according to Uris, in the responsibility for Israel's future. Foreign aid, especially in the form of weaponry, must be provided to guarantee Israel's military might. Concludes Uris, "Just keep the arms coming to Israel."
Uris's view of the novel as a situational and transitory tool by which to resolve specific injustices dramatically influences his rhetorical posture, consequently altering the implicit agreement between novelist and reader. (pp. 194-95)
Uris's works … differ from traditional literature both because of what they do and what they ask of the reader.
Uris precludes placing the reader wholly in another world because it would disserve his purpose. Less interested in the reader's intrapersonal growth per se than in the sovereignty of Israel, Uris aims at producing an external/public as opposed to internal/private reader response. Although, granted, self-reflection often precedes public action, Uris is primarily concerned with prescribing the latter and hence seeks to facilitate less an isolated, personal experience than a specific, external response similar for all readers. Virtually free of implication, subtlety, and ambiguity, Uris's writings require little in the way of "working" at meaning. Uris orchestrates linguistically "complete" speech acts with which readers may agree or disagree, but which permit only minimal variance of interpretation of the inherent characterizations. One is conscious not only of a narrator—as in traditional literature—but of Uris's authorship, his ever-dominating presence.
Uris's readers must weave between external personageship and ideal auditorship—asked to empathize with fictional characters in a primarily fictional setting, but not to the extent of becoming so aesthetically detached that external personage is obscured from its articulation to storyline. Uris suggests that fictional and external worlds are interrelated to the point that his fictional discourse cannot function independent of the external world—which is different from saying … that a fictional world experience may subsequently be externally generalized, as often occurs with traditional literature. Uris's rhetoric mandates semi-aesthetic detachment: readers are required to slip into the role of ideal auditor to appreciate affectively Uris's story while continually slipping out of the role, back to external personage, to integrate fictional and external worlds. Without his readers seeing the interdependence of both worlds, Uris's purpose cannot be achieved. He hints at this when he observes that success usually comes only when words are coupled with violence, Israel's fight for sovereignty being a prime example:
If you want attention, you only can do it through words sometimes. Of course, an article can stop the world cold, a book can stop the world cold. But in order to really achieve your goal, you've got to have violence. I could have written the most beautiful story about the Jews after World War II, but if there were no Israeli army or no Israel that novel wouldn't be worth a nickel, would it?
A novel can expose injustice, Uris believes, but correction requires external action. Ideally, he would have readers emphathize with Israel's quest for sovereignty, simultaneously remembering that in their external personages they possess the power, in the form of financial assistance, to help secure and maintain that sovereignty. Accepting a contract stipulating semi-aesthetic detachment, readers collaborate with Uris by calling into play the resources of their external world. (pp. 196-97)
Because his argument for Jewish sovereignty depends on the integrating of fictional and external worlds, Uris utilizes three devices which may be labeled, in order of ascending complexity, transporters, exemplars, and stereotypes.
The transporter is an external world reference which functions to remind readers of their external personages. It "transports" by momentarily moving one from Uris's fictional world back to one's immediate external world, thus guarding against total aesthetic detachment. The transporter stands apart from, although it has correspondence to, Uris's fictional world. Uris's use of bold historical narrative serves as an example. Accentuated by one sentence paragraphs, structural parallelism, and frequent exclamation, the passage [describing the horrors at Auschwitz] recalls the external world at perhaps its most shocking hour…. (pp. 197-98)
Uris's frequent use of Biblical references is another effective transporting device…. Moreover, when Uris quotes the Bible as predicting Israel's inevitable rebirth, and when those predictions appear to concur with specific events reported by Uris, the right of Israel's sovereignty must seem obvious, as, for instance, in Exodus where readers are told of how Arab troops have blockaded the old city of Jerusalem and how reinforcements and supplies cannot reach the besieged city because the main highway from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem cannot be traveled. However, David Ben Ami, a student of the Bible, suspects that a hidden road exists because the Bible says so…. The highway indeed is found, supplies replenished, and the siege of Jerusalem broken within days. Israel's sovereignty is temporarily secured.
More complex, the exemplar provides a model of ideal, external world behavior, and normally takes the form of an extended scene or episode featuring fictional and external worlds sharing a symbiotic relationship.
Uris's fictive depiction of Americans typifies his use of exemplars. Usually portrayed as heroes, American characters aid Israel in times of crisis and play a major role in the achieving and maintaining of her sovereignty. In Exodus, for example, American reporter Mark Parker is asked to help outwit the British. Having devised a plan whereby three hundred volunteer refugee children threaten to commit suicide unless allowed to sail unmolested on the "Exodus" to Israel (then Palestine and under British protection), Jews seek Parker's help in writing and releasing the story to the press. When Parker's story reaches the public, it creates the world sympathy needed to guarantee the safe entry of the "Exodus" into Israel. Although others could have exposed the story, Parker is presented as the only source the public would believe. In a similar scenario, Mila 18's Christopher de Monti is an American journalist allowed to remain in Warsaw after Poland's surrender to Germany because he works for a neutral Swiss news agency. Jews imprisoned in the Warsaw ghetto ask de Monti to tell of the extermination centers at Treblinka and Madjanek. A reluctant de Monti explains that his efforts to expose the atrocities against Spaniards years before passed unnoticed. Still, the ghetto Jews adamantly press de Monti, believing that only he can alter their situation. They realize that as a journalist de Monti is credible to the masses and that his professionalism will dictate that he write the truth. His conscience finally overwhelming him, de Monti acquiesces and breaks the story to the publics in America and England.
In these examples, Uris enables the notion of Jewish sovereignty to assume special, affective meaning by fictionalizing heroes whom the reader can admire and respect…. This weave of storytelling and historical chronicle allows Uris to forge a work of heightened excitement and intrigue having generalizable, external world immediacy and significance. Afforded the novel's license and control, Uris manufactures an American of romantic proportions who possesses—through Uris's inventional skills—qualities of strength, charm, and commitment, and whose "good fight" seems that much more justified because of Uris's fictive manipulations. Against this backdrop, Uris interjects both a skeletal history of the external realities to which his story corresponds and reminders of Israel's contemporary exigencies. When all of this is played out, the Americans portrayed emerge as models exemplifying how Uris's American readership should act.
Also provided are more specific models of how Jews should think and behave. Through the character of Alexander Brandel [in Mila 18] Uris exemplifies the ideal Jew as actively committed to freedom and capable, or at least accepting, of physical force as a defensive weapon. (p. 199)
Brandel's character reflects a lesson in Jewish intellectual history and a statement of contemporary public policy. Brandel's initial philosophy of nonviolence typified Jewish thought prior to and early on in the war, and most readers can be expected to recognize Brandel's minimal resistance as culturally characteristic of the period. Similarly, Brandel's rejection of outright pacifism has its historical counterpart in the growing militancy Jews experienced as the war progressed and afterwards…. As Uris argues, history demonstrates that without physical power the Jew cannot hope to survive. The Jew must become a fighter.
Similar to the exemplar but somewhat more structurally complex, Uris's use of stereotypes also represents a wedding of fictional and external worlds. The stereotype promotes semi-aesthetic detachment in that it is predicated on readers suspending themselves between both worlds. They are forced, on one hand, to recall the external world, given that any stereotype survives apart from its fictional life and simply mirrors and/or embellishes external world preconceptions…. On the other hand, to accept Uris's stereotypes readers must distance themselves from external world sensibilities.
In presenting the Jew as a fighter, for instance, Uris refutes one stereotype by substituting another. "The lowest writers on my totem pole," he notes, "are those Jewish novelists who berate the Jewish people"; writers depicting "caricatures of the Jewish people … the wily businessman, the brilliant doctor … the tortured son … the coward"; authors "who spend their time damning their fathers, hating their mothers, wringing their hands and wondering why they were born." These portraits, Uris believes, are erroneous: "We Jews are not what we have been portrayed to be."
To evidence his claim that Jews "have been fighters," Uris cites the work of the Warsaw ghetto fighters, Jews running sea blockades to reach Israel, and Israel's battle with surrounding Arab countries. Uris's characters are typically "people who do not apologize either for being born Jews or (for) the right to live in human dignity."… Implicit in Uris's characterization of Jews is the idea they are worth battling for—worth saving—because they are willing to fight and accordingly risk their lives. The stereotype assures and motivates the Jew, and more significant, perhaps, provides the non-Jew with additional incentive to aid Israel.
The Jew is cast not just as a fighter, but one possessing strange mystical powers—a superhuman, capable of tasks seemingly impossible. In Exodus, Uris describes the Jews' chances for victory in their War for Independence as negligible: they are surrounded by enemies, can claim few allies, and possess virtually no military resources; yet they succeed. Uris explains the victory of the small, ill-armed Israeli fighting unit by suggesting an omnipotent presence at work…. (pp. 200-01)
Portraying the Jew as having mystical powers functions to eradicate negative Jewish stereotypes and imbue the quest for sovereignty with religious, metaphysical overtones. On one level, a mystical Jew represents a power of sorts which can be neither controlled nor predicted. Spiritually possessed and obviously devoid of cowardice, the Jew mandates respect, if not reverence…. On another level, the mystical powers of the Jew in connection with Jewish homeland suggest that irrespective of how readers may feel towards Jews, Jewish sovereignty must be taken seriously because it appears "willed" by God. Continually, Uris describes a watchful, omnipresent God, always siding with the Jews. (p. 201)
The credibility of Uris's stereotype of the Jew as a Herculean fighter grows out of Israel's fight for independence in 1948 and subsequent Israel-Arab skirmishes—in particular, The Six Day War of 1967. Uris's stereotypical characterization of the Jew reflects, with some distortion, what readers already know. Yet to empathize with Uris's stereotype, the reader must subordinate external world rationality and play the role of the all-believing ideal auditor, suppressing the knowledge that not all Jews are or were fighters and not all, if any, possess mystical powers. And too, the reader consciously must overlook Uris's major contradiction: If Jews have mystical powers and can perform extraordinary feats because God is on their side, why do they so desperately need American military and financial aid?
While a positive stereotype of the Jew serves to foster and enlist the Gentile's aid in securing Israel's sovereignty, so does Uris's negative stereotype of the Nazi. In a part factual, part fantastic, part conjectural explanation of Nazi atrocities, Uris describes the German as a pagan who rejects belief in one God…. (p. 202)
Granted, Uris's stereotype of the Nazi has some grounding in the chronicles of Nazi Germany, but it is extended by Uris to a point which denies external world plausibility. To think of Germans as barely domesticated, pagan animals requires considerable latitude in imagination; obviously, only by distancing external world personage can one accede to this portrayal. Exaggeration and dubious inference aside however, Uris, by linking anti-semitism to the Jews' religious beliefs, rhetorically places the Christian in the same league, because the one-God concept, the Bible, and the Ten Commandments are also foundations of Christian philosophy. Jew and Christian are wedded in common cause by virtue of having their religious tenets held in contempt by the Nazis.
Stereotypes—whether they be of Jews, Nazis, or otherwise—may encourage semi-aesthetic detachment by also keeping readers focused on the relationship of storyline to external world, allowing neither to be overshadowed by the kind of complex characterization which might elicit an internal/private reader response. Uris as such presents "social types rather than individual portraits," whose "main function is to carry along the plot that history has already written." Too, the stereotype per se can aid Uris's purpose by conditioning readers to think in simplistic terms. Fostering belief in a "grayless" world of clear-cut heroes and villains whose lines of demarcation never blur, Uris's stereotypes imply that nothing needs to be complex or uncertain. Not unreasonably, Uris's readers may begin to see the world similarly, and correspondingly dispose themselves to embrace Uris's facile contention that American aid to Israel can insure the latter's sovereignty and resolve all the intricacies of Israel-Arab conflict.
Although literary critics sharply attack Uris's reliance on stereotypes, those stereotypes, nevertheless, serve to support his case for Jewish sovereignty as well as render his audience cognitively receptive to the argument. Together with the transporter, which reminds readers of the external world, and the exemplar, which fuses external and fictional worlds, the stereotype helps implement Uris's purpose by suspending readers between both worlds and encouraging semi-aesthetic detachment.
If Uris's novels are seen as mutating the traditional contract between novelist and reader, the disparity in reader/critic evaluations may be given another explanation. Literary critics, it appears, perceive the combining of fictional and external worlds as producing a shoddy novel, at best deserving of another label: living history; quasi-history; documentary; "part novel, part journalism, and part history"; even nonfiction. However, the reader finds in Uris an entertaining yet credible message with direct and immediate, external world bearing. (pp. 202-03)
From another perspective, Uris's novels seem symptomatic of a growing condition where audiences care less about the rhetor's methods than with being presented and/or entertained with facile information. One finds today some "journalism" bearing considerable literary license while some "novels" seem little more than veneered external realities. Uris as well, albeit unconsciously, may influence how readers regard and process fictional and external worlds by tacitly promoting fuzzier boundaries between the two. Once such standards are relaxed, potential exists for the blending of ideal auditorship and external personage into a single persona which cares not to distinguish among varying realities. (p. 204)
Sharon D. Downey and Richard A. Kallan, "'Semi'-Aesthetic Detachment: The Fusing of Fictional and External Worlds in the Situational Literature of Leon Uris," in Communication Monographs, Vol. 49, No. 3, September, 1982, pp. 192-204.
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"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 Ishmael—the off-and-on narrator—is growing up during WW II, only half-brainwashed into Koran-based hatred…. Then, in 1947, comes the Israeli/Arab warfare: Ben-Gurion vows that "under no circumstances will we force out a single Arab"; for tactical, power-ploy reasons, however, the Arabs force the Palestinian villagers to evacuate…. The Arabs spread false rumors of Jewish atrocities to cause mass flight; the women of Ibrahim's family are raped by rival Arab henchmen. And though the family survives, thanks to Gideon and a "very sympathetic" Irgun officer, their arrival in Arab territory on the West Bank is greeted by Arab disdain, neglect, cruelty…. They live in a cave, in refugee camps…. All UN attempts at bettering the refugee situation are ruined by "tribal avarice." And finally, "no longer able to combat or cope with the evils of our society," Ibrahim slips back into primitivism—hating Israel, killing his daughter for abandoning traditional ways—while young Ishmael ends up in despair, knowing that his "culture" is the villain … and that "the Arabs alone have the resources to dissolve their refugee problem, if they wanted to." Are there elements of truth in Uris' anti-Arab version of Palestinian history? Unquestionably. Here, however, presented in a blurred fact/fiction format, his arguments come across as grossly biased, untrustworthy, drenched in bigotry. Gratuitous scenes of Arab sex-and-violence are inserted to remind us that this is a "savage people"; generalizations about the Arab "nature" abound…. Further-more, simply as storytelling, this is a sad comedown for veteran Uris: the narration is rudimentary, often clumsy; the dialogue is amateurish, riddled with anachronisms; flat little history-lessons are thrown in haphazardly; and there's no real characterization—just illustrations of the defects in Arab culture. In sum: a dreary, ugly lecture/novel—sure to attract an audience, but likely to embarrass all but the most unthinking Jewish readers.
A review of "The Haj," in Kirkus Reviews, Vol. LII, No. 3, February 1, 1984, p. 113.
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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 Kibbutz on the road to Jerusalem. We come to know this man through an alternating dual narrative recited on the one hand in the first-person voice of his son, Ishmael, and on the other through an omniscient third-person voice that we can assume speaks for Mr. Uris himself. The stylistic device is clumsy at best, despite Ishmael's apology for it in the very first chapter. What is unforgivable, though, is the propaganda—there is no other word for it—that booms out from virtually every page of the book; it is insidious when Mr. Uris himself is speaking and despicable when it is framed in the thoughts and voices of his many Arab characters….
According to Mr. Uris, Arabs in general and Palestinians in particular are lazy, cowardly, boastful, deceitful, untrustworthy, double-crossing, backbiting, lustful, undependable murderers, thieves and rapists….
When a view is so biased, it becomes impossible to accept even what appears to be impeccable research on past events. History lessons in brief are inserted into the book at regular intervals lest we forget Mr. Uris's overriding theme. The Arabs are a hateful and hate-filled people and there is no chance they will ever change. It is no wonder that by the end of the novel, Haj Ibrahim explodes in an unspeakable act of violence that drives his son Ishmael mad.
One cannot deny a novelist his personal view; that would be akin to cutting out his tongue, something that, according to Mr. Uris, Arabs are adept at. But Anthony Burgess … said, "We do not demand of an author that he be an intellectual … but we have a right to intelligence, a knowledge of the human soul, a certain decency—quite apart from professional skill. Probably this imputation of decency is important: All the great novels have been about people trying to be kinder, more tolerant."
"The Haj" is not a great novel. It is not even a good one; Mr. Uris's head-on assault finally leaves the reader battered and numb. The effect might best be summed up by his own description of an Arab conference in Zurich: "Words hiss out like dueling rapiers, swish, clang. Moods of rage and disgust bounce off the lofty heights of the committee rooms and the intellect becomes dull and insulted."
Evan Hunter, "Palestine in Black and White," in The New York Times Book Review, April 22, 1984, p. 7.
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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 characters are involved, he or she must know something of the history of Palestine. But Uris provides so much information I sometimes wondered if I was reading a novel or a history book—and then how much of the apparent history was really accurate and how much was fiction.
Uris paints a richly detailed portrait of Arab life and culture. However, this portrait is also completely unsympathetic to the Arab world in general and particularly to the Palestinian Arabs. In fact, "The Haj" reads like a treatise on the evils of Islam and the brutality of Arab culture. It conveys the distinct impression that there is no possibility for a peaceful solution in the Mideast.
The pessimism, combined with Uris's prejudices, saps the novel of its vitality and appeal. True, Uris displayed his views clearly in "Exodus" and in "Trinity." Yet, because of his sympathy for his subjects, these novels displayed more enthusiasm than bias, which contributed greatly to their readability. This is missing in the new novel.
"The Haj" also suffers from too little plot and too much talk—most of it in a stilted, awkward style that reads like a translation. It would seem that Uris attempted to capture the colorful, formal style of Arab rhetoric, but the result is unwieldy and boring.
Jane Stewart Spitzer, "'The Haj', Uris's Richly Detailed Palestinian Portrait Lacks Vitality," in The Christian Science Monitor, May 2, 1984, p. 20.
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"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 furlong….
The book begins in the 1920s, when the Jews first brought their absurd notions of sanitation, education and the rule of law to the surrounding valley, then proceeds through a series of battles in which the Arabs usually fall down and run when the Jews fire over their heads, and into a miserable exile in the refugee camps. Uris shows a glimmer of sympathy for the Palestinians' political plight, which he blames entirely on the other Arab states, but none whatsoever for their pigheaded rejection of the greatest blessing that can be bestowed on a backward race, Jews.
In all of this, one can discern the faint outlines of the book Uris evidently thought he was writing, about one man's struggle to throw off the burden of a thousand years and learn to live in peace with the infidels…. But a Uris-Arab is even less convincing when beset by self-doubt than when engaged in his normal pursuits of scratching, cursing and bragging. Uris is so totally out of sympathy with his Arabs that he scarcely troubles to put himself into their minds. Ishmael, the Haj and the minor character of Dr. Mudhil, an archeologist, are the only three Arabs out of the million or so in the book with a germ of sense, and all their insight seems to have done for them is to lift them part way out of ignorance and into shame. "We are a people living in hate, despair and darkness," Mudhil says at one point. "The Jews are our bridge out of darkness." "Exodus" said the same thing, but from the Zionist point of view. To put these sentiments into the mouths of Arabs results in a book that does not strike a single convincing note in a vast symphony of sound.
Jerry Adler, "The Unchosen People," in Newsweek, Vol. CIII, No. 21, May 21, 1984, p. 84.