Exodus

Exodus - Leon Uris An Israeli friend of mine first recommended Uris--particularly his The Haj, about Arab/Israeli relations, and I remember liking that novel. Maybe it's that my tastes have changed, or just that this was one of Uris' first novels, but my impression of this one is that it had the materials to be a gripping, first-rate story if only Uris got out of his own way. Uris attempts to tell the story of the birth of modern Israel--and maybe takes on too much. The story, set in 1946, is framed as being about the refugee ship Exodus, and attempts to force the British, who rule over Palestine, to allow the survivors of the Holocaust being kept in camps in Cyprus to sail to the promised land. Studded through this tale are flashbacks of various characters to help us understand what helps drive these immigrants. There's the tale of Karen Clement, a German Jew who found refuge among the Danes, whose King said in a broadcast to his occupied country, that if any in his kingdom had to wear a band with a yellow star, he'd be the first--and whose people then evacuated their Jewish population to Sweden rather than let the Nazi's have them. But then Karen found the Holocaust orphaned her. There's Dov Landau, who as a young boy took part in the Warsaw Ghetto uprising, and then captured by the Nazis wound up shipped to Auschwitz. There's Ari Ben Canaan, whose father fled from the "Jewish Pale" of Russia and helped reclaim the land from the desert. The style is pretty pedestrian--very simple syntax, intrusive tagging, and boy, someone please take away the exclamation point key from this man. The characters strike me as flat, and Ari Ben Canaan, arguably the main character, is very much a Marty Sue. But by and large what kills this story is that it violates the first rule of writing--show, don't tell. Too many stories are laid out in narrative, as dry history, so that I wonder what is the point of making this fiction. Like another recent novel with fascinating historical detail but less than strong storytelling (one about Josephine Bonaparte) this left me wishing I had picked up a non-fiction book about the events and movements touched upon--Zionism, the Warshaw Ghetto uprising, the founding of Israel--the Danish resistance to the Nazis, rather than this work of fiction.