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July 11, 2003 - Image 90

Resource type:
Text
Publication:
The Detroit Jewish News, 2003-07-11

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Jews, News

A4. .104.,

670180

1115r=

Voted By The
Detroit Jewish News Readers

7/1 1

2003

62

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eon Uris' death on June 21

Millions were indeed swept along.
Exodus, recalled the Times, had been a
hardcover best-seller "for more than a
year, with 19 weeks at No. 1." The
novel sold as many as 20 million copies
in its various editions just in the United
States, where the paperback went
through 80 printings. It was the biggest
bestseller since Gone With the Wind.
The work's real impact, however, lay
beyond mere literature. For a great
many people, the plot of the novel —
and of th e even more popular 1960
film — became the popular template
for understanding the Middle East,
especially issues involving the unend-
ing Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

briefly revived discussion of
Exodus, his famous 1958
novel about the establish-
ment of Israel, if only to remember
the book's extraordinary impact. It was
a curious moment that, more than
anything, served as a reminder of how
much the novel's stature has shrunk.
Exodus is still in print, and still
attracts readers, but its power to move
a readership appears to have become
limited. The once-popular Paul
Newman epic that was based on
the book seems to have lost its
reputation as well.
Perhaps the book's representation
of the complex conflict between
Arabs and Israelis has come to seem
too simple; perhaps Uris' shortcom-
ings as a writer have finally overtak-
en his skill as a storyteller.
Whatever the case, the book's rep-
utation may have grown smaller, but
the shadow it casts remains a long
one. Exodus remains a good example
of the argument that it is works of
popular literature, with all their
shortcomings, that influence history
far more than do more highly
regarded works of literary fiction.
Obits of Uris were respectful,
noting dutifully that he was never
regarded as much of a stylist, and
Author Leon Uris: Master storyteller.
that he had relatively little talent
for character. According to these
Uris popularized Israel as a place of
postmortem appreciations, Uris' real
strength was storytelling.
righteous refuge, solidifying a link
The New York Times, for example,
between the Holocaust and Israel that is
paid mixed homage to Uris by quoting actually a matter of contention among
Israel's own historians and intellectuals.
from a 1976 review by Pete Hamill.
"It is a simple thing," wrote Hamill
This is not to say that his story was
of a later Uris novel, "to point out that false; the refuge narrative is at least
one valid Israeli theme. But Uris
Uris often writes crudely, that his dia-
helped make it the primary such nar-
logue can be wooden, that his struc-
rative, characterizing critics of Israeli
ture occasionally groans under the
excess baggage of exposition and infor-
policy in terms of that story, and set-
ring the terms of debate for decades.
mation. Simple, but irrelevant. None
For example, academic Melani
of that matters as you are swept along
in the narrative."
McAlister, in a recent analysis of the rela-

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