Exodus is an enormous book. At 600 pages of small print it's long, but its size transcends its length. Leon Uris's epic novel is so big, in fact, that he couldn't limit it to a single century. While the founding of the modern state of Israel is at the heart of the book, it includes a long section about the initial return of the Jews to Palestine in the 1800s.
Uris also describes and reflects on the mistreatment of the Jews in Europe, even exposing the sympathy of many British leaders to Hitler's Final Solution. His characters, experiencing these things firsthand, must wrestle with them even as they must choose a course of action, for this is not a novel about theory.
The central character is Ari Ben Canaan, a Jew dedicated to Israel's freedom. As a soldier in the Israeli unit of the British Army he saw action in World War II, and as an Israeli freedom fighter he works to bring as many Jews into Palestine as possible, even above the limit set by the British.
We first meet Ari as he's gambling against the British in Cyprus with the lives of 300 children aboard the refugee ship Exodus, bound for Palestine. He organizes a hunger strike, then tells the British that the children will commit suicide one by one until the ship is allowed to sail. Ari wins, and the ship makes it to the Holy Land, where Ari becomes a leader in the underground.
This event (and many others throughout the book) is based on a real occurence. But here's the funny thing about Uris's novel—he doesn't actually tell the story of the actual event. In reality, the refugee ship on which the Exodus is modeled was never captured by Jews, and its cargo of refugees was turned away by France and had to disembark in Germany.
But Uris's goal wasn't to write a history of the Zionist movement. He was writing a novel, and an exciting, action-packed one at that, heavy on battles and danger and light on eloquence. And he was writing something else: a brilliant piece of propaganda and one of the most vital weapons in the hands of the young nation, Israel.
It's said that Exodus influenced the way international news agencies covered the Six-Day War of 1967. It certainly roused the interest and fervor of American Jews, whose apathy toward the establishment of Israel was shaken loose by the allure of the larger-than-life characters and their heroic deeds.
Exodus is far from a perfect novel. Uris (who fought for three years in the Pacific Theater during World War II) was a man of action, and he drew largely on his own adventures in Israel and his wartime experiences in the writing of this book. The result is a book that was destined even beyond its author's intentions to stir a people at least to empathy.
But while Exodus isn't a perfect or even a great novel, it is a fascinating one. Readers who can't at least admire the outrageous bravery, magnetism, and stalwartness of Ari Ben Canaan are hardhearted indeed, and the number of those who won't thrill to the many scenes of fire and blood is even smaller.
Review by C. Hollis Crossman
C. Hollis Crossman used to be a child. Now he is a husband and father, teaches adult Sunday school in his Presbyterian congregation, and likes weird stuff. He might be a mythical creature, but he's definitely not a centaur. Read more of his reviews here.
Review by C. Hollis Crossman
C. Hollis Crossman used to be a child. Now he's a husband and father who loves church, good food, and weird stuff. He might be a mythical creature, but he's definitely not a centaur. Read more of his reviews here
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