“Exodus” by Leon Uris

Part 1 (up to page 154)

At first, I regretted agreeing to read Exodus. I felt a bit foolish for saying yes to a book just because my friend was offering to read it with me. I had initial doubts when Sarah said that it was about the history and creation of Israel, and I only agreed because she promised there would be explosions. When I cracked open the ancient cover of my library-rented copy, I did so begrudgingly because I expected a drab history-textbook style narrative detailing names and dates. I expected the sort of book my grandfather reads and writes. (Several editors turned down reading his “adventure” book about spanish galleons because apparently, it read too much like a ship-building manual.)

I could not have been more wrong.

The multi-perspective narrative brings what could have been a dull summary of events to life. This book acts like an adventure story (which just so happens to be historical) and I do enjoy reading it! I don’t usually care for historical novels because they almost always take an inaccurate spin on over-taught events.

When I was little and attending a tiny charter school, one of the things which bugged me was the spiral curriculum in history/social studies. I really despised learning about the same 5 events over and over and over. Not once did they even mention anything leading up to the study of the modern world, and that really bothered me. I wanted to know what was going on at the time! What little kid doesn’t? And this topic of British-American-Jewish-Pakistani tensions and conflicts in the Middle East has played such a large part in the formation of our modern world. I wish this could have been brought up even in our 9th grade Modern World History class. However, the study of World War 2 has brought in some crucial new information which dovetails perfectly with this story, and I am thankful for some fresh knowledge.

But I digress into a rant about the public schooling system. (I have a couple choice words for whoever came up with the No Child Left Behind act. Good God, what a limit for gifted children! Agh. Down with teaching to the average! I digress again.)

I think that Leon Uris has done a good job so far of conveying such a crucial tale in an interesting, suspenseful action novel. I am actually anticipating the next due date so that I may continue with the story. So far, 4 or 5 stars.

P.S. Sarah, are you and I the only ones reading this?

P.P.S. I like the photo of the Pentagon you shared with me. Unfortunately, I didn’t have an account with Nat’l Geographic so I couldn’t “Like” it on the page. Pity.


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8 responses to ““Exodus” by Leon Uris

  1. sarahkwartler

    Like Meg, I began Exodus with some doubts as the first twenty pages are about as interesting as watching an ant crawl across a picnic blanket. Originally, I had chosen to read it due to my family’s recommendations, which I used to persuade Meg to join me. Having watched the movie of the novel at a young age, all I could remember of it was some building’s explosion. Naturally, this caused me to believe that it was an action packed adventure story. It isn’t. Exodus is a mixture of small adventures and historic back-stories of the characters, which blend together to offer a detailed view of the British-Jewish-Palestinian-Arab conflicts after World War II.
    One of the main characters is Ari Ben Canaan who is a Mossad Aliyah Bet agent. As much as Ari and the other Jews strive to relocate from Cyprus to Palestine, he is a pessimist. When talking to his friend about transferring the Jews, Ari states, “’The age of miracles is gone, David.’ ‘It is not gone! Our very existence is a miracle. We outlived the Romans and the Greeks and even Hitler. We have outlived every oppressor and we will outlive the British Empire. That is a miracle, Ari.’” (Uris 25). Despite my dislike for Ari’s pessimistic view, I must begrudgingly agree with his point. The pressure that Ari is under to bring the Jews to Palestine without the notice of the British is incredible and he is forced to rely on intellect rather than luck. Yet, I also must agree with David. To have outlived many of the groups of oppressors is a miracle. Plus, I know that Palestine became Israel and escaped the British power, which proves that the Jews prevailed against the British Empire. For these statements, I find myself preferring David rather than Ari since David is more hopeful and optimistic.
    As the novel is named Exodus, I had a feeling that I would find some symbolic reason why. When David and Ari find a boat to use to transport the refugees, David says, “From now on she will be known as the Exodus” (Uris 45). In the Torah, the “exodus” is when Moses and the Israelites fled Egypt in search for the Promised Land. The ship Exodus will be doing a similar task, helping the Jews flee Cyprus to Palestine. However, I have a feeling that it is not just the ship that is the Exodus, but also the events that will follow its mission. For now, I will just have to wait to read the next segment to find out.
    Although the beginning of the novel was slow, it soon became interesting with Leon Uris’ unique style of telling certain characters’ back-stories. For instance, Dov Landau’s back-story not only discusses the danger of living in the Warsaw Ghetto, but of his frustration of being freed from one place behind barbed wire to be put in another. At first, I thought Dov was an acrimonious and impertinent teenager, but the addition of his story explains how he became that way. Currently, I am hoping that the author will include Ari Ben Canaan’s story so that I can understand why he acts the way he does.
    When I reached the end of the first section and had to put Exodus down, I was annoyed since I was in the middle of Dov’s fascinating back-story (it is very long). However, I have read enough of the book to give it a short term rating of 9.8/10 stars. Though the novel does not read as quickly as The Fault in Our Stars did, I already prefer it and believe that it would be a wonderful novel to be assigned to the whole class.
    P.S. As of this moment, you and I are the only ones reading this. However, anyone is welcome to join us.
    P.P.S. Do you think that Mandria can be trusted? He seemed a little too eager to help Ari.
    P.P.P.S. Do you think that Ari and the Palmachniks will get caught stealing from the British Depot?

  2. sarahkwartler

    The second segment of Exodus fulfilled two of my hopes, proved the power of publicity, and showed the transformation of a barren, swampy piece of territory into a bountiful land.

    My two hopes were fulfilled by learning Ari’s back-story and reading that the Exodus sail out of Cyprus. Ari plays a dangerous hand with the backing of the children as the Exodus declares a hunger strike. Pulling the heartstrings of the people of the world (and the reader) through Mark’s news articles, Ari successfully draws attention to Britain for denying the Jewish survivors’ dream of going to Palestine. Later, Ari raises the stakes by telling the British that ten volunteers will commit suicide each day until the British “Let my people go.” Fortunately, the British allow the Exodus to depart. Not only does this part express the Jewish desire to reclaim the Promised Land, but also continues to contrast to the story of Moses as I described in my first blog post. “Let my people go,” Ari tells the British just like Moses told Pharaoh. This statement is made by the oppressed to the oppressor, and in both instances it helps them escape their oppression.

    Ari’s back-story is astonishing since it does not start at his childhood, but at his father’s. The story tracks the perilous journey that Barak Ben Canaan and his brother took to flee the pogroms of Eastern Europe. Interestingly, when Ari’s father and uncle arrived in Palestine, they were not shown hatred by the Arabs and simply settled down in the small Jewish settlements. This arose the question of how Israel came to be if the majority of the people in Palestine were Arabs. My question was answered as Uris explains the roots of Israel’s rebirth by showing how Ben Canaan and other Zionists purchased unwanted land from the Arabs. In the beginning, there were no quotas on the number of Jews allowed in Palestine and those who survived the journey away from the pogroms were welcomed. This section also reveals the origin of Ari’s serious personality as it describes his young wife’s murder. Ari knew Dafna (his wife) since childhood, so this loss scarred him immensely. Yet, “No one saw Ari Ben Canaan weep or even raise his voice. After Dafna’s murder he would disappear for hours at a time, returning chalky-faced and shaken” (281). To me, Dafna’s death transformed Ari’s spirit from hopeful and determined to solemn and steadfast.

    Lastly, I recognized that as the Jews in Palestine transform the swamplands that they bought from the Arabs, they also change and became more confident. Surprisingly, the Jews succeed and turn the land into one of plenty and created the Haganah for their self-defense. It is also at this time that the Arabs supporting Husseini became angry with the Jews for “stealing the land” when they had bought it fairly. This, and the British ignoring the Jews’ strife caused by the Arabs growing anti-Jewish violence obviously leads straight into the Middle East Conflict that we see today. Uri carefully explains this through Ari’s back-story before returning to the Exodus, which has now arrived in Palestine.

    • megmsmith

      Like Sarah, this section fulfilled some of my wishes, including Karen/Dov ship fulfillment. (For those not versed in the vernacular of fandom, ship fulfillment is when two characters whom one ships, or thinks would make a cute/hot couple, actually become a couple.) I always thought those two would get together and have a cute, fluffy, PTSD-filled refugee relationship. Those crazy kids.

      I also enjoyed the action-packed pages of press releases! I could not get sleep or do other important homework for wanting to read more! Ari’s Moses allusion (“Let my people go!”) was not lost on me. In fact, I found it quite fitting and very dramatic. You little showoff, Ari.

      I, however, was not as enamored with Ari’s backstory. I found all of the drivel about Jossi (Barak Ben Canaan) and Yakov (Akiv Ben Canaan) boring drudgery of pointless personal details half-heartedly combined with technical historical details. Personally, I think Leon Uris was going through a writing-inspiration dry spell in this section.

      One of the problems I’ve been having with this book is the lack of personal details. Uris tends to go on for pages and pages of dates and names which really aren’t relevant to the immediate story, yet only mention a major personal event, like the start of a relationship or a marriage, in a single sentence. I like reading about characters, not historical narratives! That’s the reason I adored watching Lost and Firefly, or reading multiple-perspective novels. In a character’s backstory, I think it is unfitting to ignore the characters. This is why I dreaded every sentence of Ari’s backstory, yet devoured those of Karen and Dov.

      What about you, Sarah dear? Do you prefer the historical story, or reading about the characters’ lives, during and before the events of the famous voyage of the Exodus? Also, how true is this story?

  3. sarahkwartler

    I do not have a preference. I enjoy both sections since they help me analyze what is occurring. The overall story of what happened in the regions at this time period is entirely true. However, the characters like Ari are fictional composites of actual people’s experiences.

  4. sarahkwartler

    Segment three of Exodus focuses on Ari acting like a Palestinian James Bond, Kitty being selfish, and the importance of being part of something that one believes in.

    Ari is a reckless Haganah agent in this segment as he breaks into a prison to save his uncle. Unfortunately, his uncle not only dies after the escape, but Ari is shot in the leg. Much like James Bond, the pain does not affect Ari until he is safe. Then, he faints and Leon Uris deserts Ari’s story for a quite a few pages to add suspense. Right before I was going to put the book down out of irritation, Uris returns to Ari’s story as Kitty comes to extract the bullet from Ari’s leg. Once Ari feels better, he tries to resume wooing Kitty, but she will have nothing of it. Kitty feels used and confused since she refuses to allow herself to love Ari like a sabra. Though this is what Kitty claims is the issue, Ari’s long absences make me wonder if she has fallen instead for Sutherland. What do you think, Meg?

    Secondly, Kitty becomes more selfish the farther I read in this section as she plans of ways to bring Karen with her to America. Yet, my opinion sharply contrasts with the opinions of the children in Gan Dafna since they adore Kitty. My opinion changed once Kitty realized that she couldn’t leave the children of Gan Dafna, but it makes me wonder if I only thought she was selfish because the narrator is telling the story from her point of view. However, it also brings up this question: Are people inherently selfish in situations that aren’t matters of life and death? Even I cannot fully answer this question since non-dire situations allow one to pursue his or her goals, which may be considered selfish. Still, non-dire situations enable people to live in peace with one another, so people may choose not to be selfish. I know that in life and death situations it is more likely that one will be selfish, but it is possible for one not to as well. Therefore, I believe that all people are inherently selfish, yet are able to quell their own self-centered urges in order to interact with and be a part of society.

    Uris also addresses the importance of being a part of a cause that people believe in through the Jewish Palestinians. He shows this throughout the novel with the never-ending loyalty and determination that the Jews have towards reaching Palestine and making it their home. Uris even creates the possibility of rising above the oppression (which the Jews constantly face) if one works hard and never loses hope. This possibility actually occurs many times throughout the novel through the creation of the Haganah, Maccabees, and kibbutzim. The Haganah, Maccabees, and kibbutzim enable the Palestinian Jews to thwart the oppression caused by the Arabs and British.

    The third segment of Exodus is fast paced as Leon Uris portrays the rising conflict between the British, Arabs, and Jews. Uris’ ability in making Exodus so exciting is causing it to become one of my favorite historical fiction books.

  5. megmsmith

    “Palestinian James Bond.” I love that description. Personally, I think Kitty is slowly and confusedly falling for Ari. Just look at her reaction after saving his life (using medically sound methods: Alcohol is an effective painkiller [why do you think people get drunk after rough days?] and sulfonamide-based drugs are still used to prevent bacterial infections. You may think she’s selfish, but she is a decent nurse.) She breaks down sobbing and repeating his name. She likes him, a trained monkey could see that. I predict that Kitty will be the next Palestinian Bond Girl, despite Ari’s frequent departures. Absence makes the heart grow fonder, to quote the old adage.

    In contrast to your belief that all people are inherently selfish, I think that people can be extraordinarily selfless in situations that are not life-and-death. Just today, I read something that said that in an experiment, some African children were offered a game of hide-and-seek, and whoever found the basket of fruit could eat it all by themselves. Some time later, the people running the experiment found all of the children sitting together, sharing the fruit. When asked why one of them didn’t keep the fruit for him or herself, they said something along the lines of “when the group is not happy, not one can be happy.” Also, people can be selfless in the face of life-or-death situations. Just look at the recent Korean ferry incident. Many brave students and crew members sacrificed their lives so that others could live. However, the captain of the ship was the first one off the boat without helping others. So, I don’t think society can fit into a category as a whole. Selflessness varies from individual to individual.

    So far, I think this book is interesting, but dense. The frequent use of Hebrew and Arabic terms is difficult to face when sleep deprived and distracted, but the story so far is incredibly engaging.

  6. sarahkwartler

    Exodus by Leon Uris- 9.3/10 stars
    When it comes to reviewing Exodus, I am at odds with myself since it is a fascinating story, but at times incredibly slow. I enjoyed the characters’ back-stories, but I find the stories occasionally too long. Ari’s back-story didn’t start at his childhood, but at his father’s childhood, making it a bit irritating as I waited for Uris to return to the overall plot. However, these back-stories brought insight into other historical events that my history classes had briefly touched upon, such as the Warsaw Ghetto and Russia’s pogroms. To paraphrase Meg in her first post, the topic of Israel’s formation also encompasses the beginning of the British/Jewish/Arab conflict that still occurrs today. The issue is that nowadays people are not learning about Middle East countries’ formations, so they lack knowledge about the region’s people and conflicts. This is causing people to assume when they read news articles about Arab terrorist attacks that all Arabs are automatically bad. However, Exodus shows that in the beginning of Israel’s formation, some of the Arabs actually helped the Jews, but later displays why Arabs turned against the Jews (hatred and fear created by Arabs like Haj Amin al-Husseini). Thanks to Exodus, I now understand more about why the rift occurred between the Jewish Palestinians and the Palestinian Arabs.

    Exodus is a wonderful story, but I hesitate to suggest it as an assigned reading book due to its length and the possibility that people may not like reading historical fiction as much as I do. Yet, it is a fantastic novel, so I would recommend it for a “Summer Reading Suggestions” list. Exodus also had many themes that would make it a good book to study, such as the power of publicity, human determination, rising above oppression, and the importance of hope. Still, it managed to be unlike any of the novels that our class has read this year, so it probably won’t fit effortlessly into the curriculum. Nevertheless, I give Leon Uris’ Exodus a rating of 9.3/10 stars.

  7. megmsmith

    I rate this book at 4 stars out of 10, but this is because of my personal preferences in literature.

    Exodus is far from light reading. It is insanely slow at times, and Leon Uris seems to have disproportionate backstories–spending pages and pages on historical events but mere sentences on personal events of characters we love and care about. However, if you are willing to spend the time, effort, and browser histories full of things like the Aliyah Bet and maps of Yemen (if the CIA is tracking my internet use, I bet they think I’m an Israeli arms dealer or a geneticist and X-Men fan from OSU based on this assignment and the thing I wrote for the vocab writing thing) (the things I do for this class) this story can be very rewarding and informational.

    I must admit–Uris’ writing style did not agree with me at times. I am a fan of character-driven stories, but our dear Mr. Uris preferred to blather on and on for pages about things which happened centuries before the events of the main plot.

    I really shouldn’t blame him, though. History is very very long and backstory is important when writing a historical novel. However I DON’T FREAKING CARE ABOUT BARAK BEN CANAAAAN TRUDGING THROUGH THE FREAKING MOUNTAINS FOR FIFTY FREAKING PAGES sorry but a little less trudging and a little more, I don’t know, relevant things, would have been nice.

    Learning about the formation of one of the world’s most important nations was nice and informative and important in a world where the Middle East is growing ever more influential.

    I would not recommend reading this book for class. It was very long and there was little material to focus on from an analytical point of view. However, if you like really long historical (fiction?) novels, this is a 10/10, 100% perfect book for you.

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