Exodus (Uris novel)
|Publisher||Doubleday & Company|
|Media type||Print (Hardcover)|
Exodus is a historical novel by American novelist Leon Uris about the founding of the State of Israel. Published in 1958, it begins with a compressed retelling of the voyages of the 1947 immigration ship Exodus.
Uris covered the Arab–Israeli fighting as a war correspondent in 1956; two years later, Exodus was published by Doubleday. Exodus became an international publishing phenomenon, the biggest bestseller in the United States since Gone with the Wind (1936). The book remained number one on The New York Times Best Seller list for eight months after its release, and initiated a new sympathy for the newly established State of Israel.
The story unfolds with the protagonist, Ari Ben Canaan, hatching a plot to transport Jewish refugees from a British detention camp in Cyprus to Palestine. The operation is carried out under the auspices of the Mossad Le'aliyah Bet. The book then goes on to trace the histories of the various main characters and the ties of their personal lives to the birth of the new Jewish state.
- 1 Main story and characters
- 2 The origins of Exodus
- 3 Reviews and critical commentary
- 4 References in popular culture
- 5 References
- 6 Further reading
Main story and characters
Plot and meaning
The main plot of the novel, writes Bonnie Helms, involves a "story of great courage." Among the characters are "freedom fighters" Ari and Barak Ben Canaan and Dov Landau, whose stories are told in flashbacks. American nurse Kitty Fremont and German refugee Karen Hansen work alongside them to help defeat the British blockade of Palestine. The novel includes several love stories, although they often take place in surroundings of violence and terrorism. "Uris gives the reader a strong sense of the past, present, and the future of the Jewish people," states Helms.
The personal stories in Exodus inspired its characters to seek their meaning and identity in relation to their social settings. Those settings were composed of their previous personal experiences, which were then grounded in both religion and geography. According to William Darby, "The leading characters in Exodus only find romantic happiness when they understand that they must conjoin nationalistic, religious and personal aims."
Years after the success of the book, Uris explains why he thinks it received such an enthusiastic reception:
Exodus is the story of the greatest miracle of our times, an event unparalleled in the history of mankind: the rebirth of a nation which had been dispersed 2,000 years before. It tells the story of the Jews coming back after centuries of abuse, indignities, torture, and murder to carve an oasis in the sand with guts and with blood....Exodus is about fighting people, people who do not apologize either for being born Jews or the right to live in human dignity.
Ari Ben Canaan
Ari Ben Canaan, a sabra born and raised on a kibbutz, goes on to become one of the mainstays of the Israeli freedom movement. The handsome Canaan is described as six feet and three inches tall, with dark hair and ice-blue eyes. His father, Barak Ben Canaan (formerly Jossi Rabinsky, born in the Russian Pale of Settlement), heads the Jewish Agency for Palestine. His uncle Akiva (formerly Yakov Rabinsky) leads the Maccabees, a militant organization (based on the Irgun). The brothers came to Palestine after their father was murdered in a pogrom.
As a young man, Ari was in love with a young woman, Dafna, who was tortured, raped, and murdered by Arabs. Dafna later becomes the namesake of the youth village, Gan Dafna, around which a large part of the story unfolds. As part of the Mossad Aliyah Bet (an organization which organized Jewish immigration to Palestine), Ari is extremely creative in devising techniques to bring Jews from all over the world to Palestine – more than allowed by the British quota. During World War II, he served as an officer in the Jewish Brigade of the British army, and he uses this experience to benefit his activities. This is his main occupation until Israel gains freedom, when he joins the Israeli army and is assigned to the Negev desert. He sees himself as part of a new breed of Jew who will not "turn the other cheek". There are similarities to his character and Moshe Dayan, the Israeli military leader and politician; many parallels can be drawn between Ari and Dayan: both the fictional Ari and the real-life Dayan were trained by the same British General and had similar World War II experiences. Ben Canaan is also reported, however, to be based upon Yehudah Arazi. His character most likely was based on Yossi Harel, the commander of the Exodus 1947 operation and a leading member of the Israeli intelligence community.
Katherine "Kitty" Fremont
Katherine "Kitty" Fremont is described in the novel as being tall, blonde, blue-eyed, and beautiful. An American nurse newly widowed, Kitty meets Ari Ben Canaan in Cyprus. Grieving for her lost husband and the recent death of her daughter from polio, Kitty develops a maternal attachment toward Karen Hansen Clement, a German refugee in a Cyprus displaced persons (DP) camp. This attachment and her attraction toward Ben Canaan result in her becoming, initially with reluctance, involved in the freedom struggle. She eventually becomes irritated at Ari's lack of emotion towards violent deaths, but comes to understand and accept his dedication to Israel.
Bruce Sutherland is a British military officer (rank of brigadier) whose mother was Jewish. After a lifetime of soldiering, he is posted to Cyprus, with instructions to maintain security at the detention camps. Like many British aristocrats he has a stifling, formal manner of speech. Internally, he is torn between his sympathies with the Jews he is required to guard and his duties as a British officer; the horrors he witnessed when his battalion liberated Bergen-Belsen is also a factor. He retires from the army at his own request after a mass escape engineered and led by Ari Ben Canaan. Despite this, he moves to Palestine to settle, becomes good friends with Ben Canaan, and acts as a very unofficial military advisor.
Karen Hansen Clement
Karen Hansen Clement, described as tall, with long brown hair and green eyes, is a German teenager who was brought up for a while by foster parents in Denmark. She was sent there by her family when Hitler rose to power in Germany. Her family was subsequently interned in concentration camps, where her mother and two younger brothers die. Before she is transported to Israel, Karen is placed in a Cypriot refugee camp and is one of the passengers on the Exodus. Karen does meet her father again in Israel, but he is a broken man who is unable to communicate or recognize his daughter; the experience leaves her unnerved and shattered. Despite this, she maintains her gentle and dainty personality. At the end of the novel she is murdered by fedayeen from Gaza.
Dov Landau, described as being blond, blue-eyed, small, and young-looking for his age, is an angry teenager who lost his entire family to the Holocaust; he has not merely survived the horrors of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising and of Auschwitz, but has learned from them to turn circumstances to his advantage. A master forger, he narrowly escapes the gas chamber by displaying his talent to the camp doctor. The doctor is not able to tell the difference between his own signature and the five copies that Dov makes. Dov works as a forger but is then assigned to work in a Sonderkommando, which he barely survives. After the camp is liberated, he ends up in Cyprus and eventually Israel as part of the escape organized by Ari Ben Canaan. He joins the Maccabees (based on the Irgun), a Jewish militant organization that is headed by Barak's brother Akiva. He is driven by a thirst for revenge "that only God or a bullet can stop". He falls in love with Karen and later becomes a Major in the Israeli army. He becomes unofficially engaged to Karen, but after she is murdered by the fedayeen, he forces himself to go on working for Israel, to make her proud of him.
Jordana Ben Canaan
Jordana Ben Canaan, described as tall, red-haired, and blue-eyed, is Ari's fiery younger sister, a leader of the Palmach (Haganah elite unit), and the lover and fiancée of David Ben Ami. Jordana is typical of the young native-born girls and, initially hostile toward Kitty - believing that American women are no good for anything other than dressing up prettily - changes her opinion when Kitty saves Ari's life and later becomes more identified with Israel's struggle. After the death of David Ben Ami, Jordana sinks into depression but never mentions his name.
Barak Ben Canaan
Barak Ben Canaan (born Jossi Rabinsky) is 6 feet, 3 inches tall, red-haired, and blue-eyed and the father of Ari Ben-Canaan. He was born in the Russian Pale of Settlement. After their father was murdered in a pogrom, he and his brother Yakov walked overland to Palestine, where they settled. There, he met and married his wife Sarah, and his son Ari and daughter Jordana were born. He became a kibbutz pioneer and eventually head of the Jewish Agency. After his brother Yakov/Akiva joins the Maccabees, he cuts off all contact with Akiva. Near the end of the novel, Barak dies of cancer and was buried next to Akiva.
Akiva (born Yakov Rabinsky), is of medium height, brown-eyed, and dark haired. He is Barak Ben Canaan's brother, a poet, and leader of the radical underground group the "Maccabees". While Akiva bears some resemblance to the real-life Irgun (Etze"l), the character may be inspired by Avraham Stern of Lehi. Near the end of the book, he is shot by the British during the Acre prison break; his brother Barak is later buried next to him.
David Ben Ami
David Ben Ami is black-haired and brown-eyed, and a close colleague of Ari Ben Canaan, both in the Haganah and later in the IDF. He is also Jordana's lover and a friend of Kitty Freemont's. He was born in Jerusalem, is university educated, and plans to take a doctorate. Steeped in religious and mystical lore, he is also a specialist in Biblical archaeology and warfare. In this regard, his knowledge is valuable in the relief of besieged Jerusalem. He is killed in action after leading a suicide mission to capture the Old City of Jerusalem.
Rebecca Landau/Zev Gilboa
Two suicide bombers who sacrifice themselves in acts of final desperation to kill their adversaries. Landau's targets are German soldiers during the Warsaw Ghetto uprising during World War II; Gilboa's are Arab fighters at the siege of Fort Esther during the Israeli War of Independence.
The origins of Exodus
Leon Uris, New York Post interview
Numerous sources say that Uris, motivated by an intense interest in Israel, financed his own research for the novel by selling the film rights in advance to MGM and writing articles about the Sinai campaign. It has also been reported that the book involved two years of research and involved thousands of interviews.
According to Jack Shaheen: "In the 1950s, when Americans were largely apathetic about Israel, the eminent public relations consultant Edward Gottlieb was called on "to create a more sympathetic attitude" toward the newly established state. He therefore sent Leon Uris to Israel to write a novel, which became the bestseller Exodus... Exodus introduced filmgoers to the Arab–Israel conflict, and peopled it with heroic Israelis and sleazy, brutal Arabs, some of whom link up with ex-Nazis. The movie's only "good Arab" becomes a dead Arab." Shaheen did not identity the person or collection of persons who sought Gottlieb's assistance.
Reviews and critical commentary
The book became an international bestseller upon its release in 1958, and the biggest bestseller in the United States since Gone with the Wind in 1936. It remained number one on the New York Times bestseller list for nineteen weeks. By the time it came out in paperback in 1965, the hardback had already sold more than five million copies and was among the top 10 in the New York Times best sellers list. The success of the book initiated sympathy for the newly established State of Israel.
Various reasons were cited by reviewers as to why Exodus was so well received. Among them was the fact that the book, a historical novel, came out ten years after the widely-publicized Exodus Affair, which involved a ship named SS Exodus, from which the book took its title. In 1947 the British seized the ship as it was about to cross into the territorial waters of Palestine and deported all its passengers, Jewish refugees trying to immigrate illegally, many of them Holocaust survivors, back to Europe. When it came out, Uris's book aroused the public's interest in the fate of that ship and its passengers.
Others credited the book for being an "antidote to the public silence of American Jews" after Israel became a state ten years earlier. "Something fundamental changed among American Jews as a result of the book," writes historian Matthew Silver. Jews were now able to reconnect to a "resurrected" Jewish homeland after two thousand years, he said.
The appeal of Exodus impacted Jews as well as non-Jews. Liberal Jews, writes anthropologist Jonathan Boyarin, used the Exodus narrative to connect their sympathy for the new state of Israel with their sympathy for the civil rights struggle of American blacks. Black author Julius Lester recalled that after reading the book its effect was "so extraordinary that I wanted to go and fight for Israel, even die, if need be, for Israel." He explained:
Israel spoke to the need I had as a young black man for a place where I could be free of being an object of hatred. I did not wish I were Jewish, but was glad that Jews had a land of their own, even if blacks didn't.
The book also affected the political relationship of certain countries to their Jewish populations, most of whom died during the Holocaust. Exodus describes in detail the plight of Jews living in Eastern European countries, such as Poland. Poland had dozens of concentration camps while it was occupied by the Nazis. Its government saw Uris's book as thereby "anti-Polish", and defaming the country's honor. The government subsequently began removing printed references to Polish informers and the country's indifference to the fate of Jews, while describing accounts of Polish aid to Jews during those years.
The Jewish population in the Soviet Union was inspired by Exodus. Those involved in the dissident samizdat movement had to make secret copies of the book after it was painstakingly translated. Translator Leah Pliner notes that some of the story had to be cut out, including romances between Jewish and non-Jewish characters, to not offend Jewish readers' expectations. She recalls having to make 300 copies on a mimeograph machine, and by the time tens of thousands had been distributed, the samizdat version of Exodus became a source of inspiration. "The enormous significance of Exodus to the growth and stimulation of the Jewish movement," writes historian Leonard Schroeter, "can hardly be overstated."
Historian Aviva Halamish notes that the book describes the emigration of Jews to Palestine with a "heartrending story of genuine, unassuming heroism." Ellen Battersby of the Irish Times said the story "cast an emotive, bombastic spell" on readers, while journalist Quentin Reynolds said Exodus was exciting both "as a novel and as a historical document."
The book was first criticised in 1960 by Aziz S. Sahwell of the Arab Information Center for historical inaccuracies and its depiction of Arabs. Ghassan Kanafani in his book about Zionist literature writes that this book is the worst distortion of history (fi aladab alsehyoni, page 100). Edward Said suggested in 2001 that the novel still provides "the main narrative model that dominates American thinking" with respect to the foundation of Israel. British writer Robert Fisk wrote in 2014 that it was "a racist, fictional account of the birth of Israel in which Arabs are rarely mentioned without the adjectives “dirty” and “stinking” [and] was one of the best pieces of Socialist-Zionist propaganda that Israel could have sought". Norman Finkelstein espoused a similar view as Robert Fisk, in his 2008 work Beyond Chutzpah.
Alan Elsner of the Jewish Journal quotes Israel's first prime minister, David Ben Gurion, as saying, "As a literary work, it isn’t much. But as a piece of propaganda, it’s the greatest thing ever written about Israel." Elsner describes his own re-reading of the book as "disturbing and unsettling in many ways." He notes that parts of the novel were unfaithful to the actual events. For instance, while the novel describes children going on a hunger strike, which successfully forced the British to let the ship land in Palestine, in reality the British deported the Jewish passengers back to Germany. But although this did become an international incident by the press, which Elsner says discredited British policy, it "did not fit Uris' dramatic purpose." Despite such inaccuracies, he adds, "Exodus still packs an emotional wallop."
Eric Homberger of The Guardian, also notes that Uris took literary license in the novel, and describes him as a "master storyteller" who combined political and historical facts with characters who were sometimes portrayed as stereotypes. Uris spent a number of years doing research for Exodus, traveling 12,000 miles within Israel and interviewing 1,200 people. Writer Saul Bellow admits that while some reviewers feel that the book was not of high literary caliber, it was nonetheless effective as a document: "We need such documents now," he said. Homberger describes Uris as "an educator of the American public in the Zionist interpretation of modern Jewish history."
References in popular culture
Dr Wladislaw Dering sued Leon Uris for libel because of allegations made against Dering in the novel. This lawsuit inspired the fictionalized account of a lawsuit that formed the basis of Uris' later bestselling novel, QB VII (1970).
- Exodus special edition, Amazon books description
- Nadel, Ira B. Leon Uris: Life of a Best Seller, Univ. of Texas Press (2010) Prologue notes
- God, Guns and Israel: Britain, The First World War And The Jews in the Holy City, Jill Hamilton, p 181: "Two months after the tenth anniversary a novel was published in America that changed the public perception of Israel and the Jews. Exodus by the Jewish US ex-marine Leon Uris became an international publishing phenomenon, the biggest best seller in the United States since Gone with the Wind. Both the novel and the subsequent movie thrust Israel into the lives of millions, and with it initiated a new sympathy for the young country."
- Helms, Bonnie A. 150 Great Books, Walch Publishing (1986) p. 99
- Darby, William. Necessary American Fictions: Popular Literature of the 1950s, Popular Press (1987) p. 93
- Schroeter, Leonard. The Last Exodus, Univ. of Washington Press (1979) pp. 64-65
- Ashkenazi, Eli (April 27, 2008). "Yossi Harel, commander of Exodus, dies at 90". Haaretz. Retrieved 2008-04-27.
- Gurock, Jeffrey. American Jewish History: The Colonial and Early National Periods...Volume 1, Taylor & Francis (1998) pp. 78–79
- Chris Fujiwara (2009). The World and Its Double: The Life and Work of Otto Preminger. Faber & Faber. p. 255. ISBN 0-86547-995-X. 
- Patricia Erens. The Jew in American Cinema. Indiana University Press, 1988. p. 217. ISBN 0-86547-995-X. 
- Joel Shatzky; Michael Taub (1994). Contemporary Jewish-American Novelists: A Bio-Critical Sourcebook. Greenwood Press. p. 440. ISBN 0-313-29462-3.
- Reel Bad Arabs, Jack Shaheen, Olive Branch Press 2001, ISBN 1-56656-388-7
- Lehmann-Haupt, Christopher (June 25, 2003). "Leon Uris, 78, Dies; Wrote Sweeping Novels Like 'Exodus'". The New York Times. Retrieved 25 April 2015.
- Hochstein, Murray S. Greenfield, Joseph M. (2010). The Jews' secret fleet: the untold story of North American volunteers who smashed the British blockade of Palestine (Rev. ed.). Jerusalem: Gefen Pub. House. p. 131. ISBN 9652295175.
- Halamish, Aviva (1998). The Exodus affair: Holocaust survivors and the struggle for Palestine (1. ed.). Syracuse, NY: Syracuse Univ. Press. pp. 77–80. ISBN 0815605161.
- Silver, Matthew. Our Exodus: Leon Uris and the Americanization of Israel's Founding Story, Wayne State Univ. Press (2010) p. 22
- Boyarin, Jonathan. Palestine and Jewish History, Univ. of Minnesota Press (1996) pp. 59–60
- Wyman, David S., and Rosenzveig, Charles H. The World Reacts to the Holocaust, Johns Hopkins Univ. Press (1996) p. 123
- Battersby, Ellen. "Time to read a good long book", The Irish Times, July 5, 2015
- Cain, Kathleen. Leon Uris: A Critical Companion, Greenwood Publishing Group (1998) p. 11
- Aziz S. Sahwell, Exodus: A Distortion of Truth, Arab Information Center, 1960
- Salt, Jeremy (1985), "Fact and Fiction in the Middle Eastern Novels of Leon Uris", Journal of Palestine Studies, University of California Press, 14 (3): 54–63, doi:10.2307/2536952, JSTOR 2536952
- "Propaganda and war" Archived 2013-10-23 at the Wayback Machine, Edward Said, Al-Ahram Weekly, 30 August - 5 September 2001, Issue No.549: "The most disturbing thing is that hardly any of the questioned Americans knew anything at all about the Palestinian story, nothing about 1948, nothing at all about Israel's illegal 34-year military occupation. The main narrative model that dominates American thinking still seems to be Leon Uris's 1950 novel Exodus."
- This view is shared by other authors such as:
*Kaplan, Amy (2013), "Zionism as Anticolonialism: The Case of Exodus", American Literary History, Oxford University Press, 25 (4): 870–895, doi:10.1093/alh/ajt042: "Exodus shaped the American memory of Israel’s origins for decades to come, even among generations who never read the book or saw the movie", and
*Nadel, Ira (2007), "Exodus, or "The Book"", Various Positions: A Life of Leonard Cohen, University of Texas Press, ISBN 9780292717329
- The Independent, Robert Fisk: If the Nobel Peace Prize can be handed to Obama, why not hand it to the Israeli Defence Force?, 10 August 2014
- Beyond Chutzpah: On the Misuse of Anti-Semitism and the Abuse of History, Norman G. Finkelstein, 2008, p2-3, quote: "Putting aside its apologetics for Zionism, the sheer racism of Uris's blockbuster bears recalling. The Arabs, their villages, their homes—to the last, they're "stinking" or engulfed in "overwhelming stench" and "vile odors." Arab men just "lay around" all day "listless"—that is, when they're not hatching "some typical double-dealing scheme which seemed perfectly legitimate to the Arab," or resorting to "the unscrupulous ethics of the Arab ... the fantastic reasoning that condoned every crime short of murder," or "becom[ing] hysterical at the slightest provocation." As for Palestine itself before the Jews worked wonders, it was "worthless desert in the south end and eroded in the middle and swamp up north"; "a land of festering, stagnated swamps and eroded hills and rock-filled fields and unfertile earth caused by a thousand years of Arab and Turkish neglect. ... There was little song or laughter or joy in Arab life. ... In this atmosphere, cunning, treachery, murder, feuds and jealousies became a way of life. The cruel realities that had gone into forming the Arab character puzzled outsiders. Cruelty from brother to brother was common." Truth be told, not much has changed in official Zionist propaganda"
- Elsner, Alan. "Re-reading leon Uris' Exodus", Jewish Journal, April 18, 2013
- Homberger, Eric. "Leon Uris: Obituary", The Guardian, June 24, 2003
- Wall, Mick (May 10, 2011). Enter Night: A Biography of Metallica (page 119). St. Martin's Press. ISBN 0-312-64989-4.
- "Exodus. Blood On The Dance Floor". FrankenSounds. January 4, 2015. Retrieved 27 June 2016.
- Folgar, Abel (April 24, 2015). "Through it All, Tom Hunting Sees Exodus as a "Brotherhood"". New Times Broward-Palm Beach. Retrieved 27 June 2016.
- Peters, Joan. From Time Immemorial: The Origins of the Arab-Jewish Conflict Over Palestine
- Weissbrod, Rachel, "Exodus as a Zionist Melodrama" in: Israel Studies 4.1 (1999) 129–152