Exodus by Leon Uris, Bantam, 1958.
Well, I got this book a few years ago from the basement of someone moving. An old, yellowed book. It, along with several other old paperbacks, sat on my shelf too long. I got rid of several, realizing that realistically I will never read them. But this one caught my eye! Back cover: “The story of an American nurse and an Israeli freedom fighter caught up in the most dramatic event of the 20th century.”
It is historical fiction, weaving a fiction story around true events that led to the re-birth of the nation of Israel in 1948. I was a nurse for 18 years, and I’m from a dispensational background (and a graduate of DTS) so, naturally, Israel has special interest for me. I have also read a lot of non-fiction about WW2 and the Holocaust.
So…I started reading it, only knowing what I read from the back cover and intro. I did not find out until I finished reading the book that…it was a best seller back then, and the book is still a hit on amazon with 830 mostly positive reviews. How did I not know of this book until now? Wikipedia says this:
“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.”
I read much more non-fiction than fiction, but – wow – I loved this book! It pulled me in. My edition is 600 pages, and it remained a page turner. When the book ended, I was sad. I felt like I had become a part of the story and the characters were my friends. I did not want it to end! Give me more! (This is unusual for me with a fiction book, thus my emphasis.)
A brief summary. The book begins on Cyprus, after WW2, and Jews are being held in refugee detention camps. These Jews were on their way to Palestine (remember Israel was not a nation yet) but stopped by the British (who were in charge of this area of the world) and taken to Cyprus. A group of these Jews make it to Palestine, joining other Jews who have been there, living on kibbutzes and reclaiming neglected land. You learn the back story of several of the key characters, when there is a flashback in the book. Thus there is review of life in the Warsaw ghetto and concentration camps during WW2. But eventually it moves forward to them living in Palestine, and the tough life on the kibbutzes. Yet there is a tremendous sense of purpose, community, freedom and joy as they work hard (and experience tragedy and trouble) as they strive to reclaim neglected land and hope to become a nation. Zionism had begun in the late 1800’s and the circumstances of WW2 propelled it forward. Different groups of Jews had differing ideas about how to fulfill Zionist hopes.
It really is nothing short of miraculous that the nation of Israel was re-birthed in 1948, many feel in fulfillment of biblical prophecy.
Despite the book’s length, despite flashbacks, despite lots of detail and history (which can make a book harder for some people to get through) … this book worked! And I am clearly not the only one who really loved this book. Read it.
A final note of interest, I better understand kibbutzes now. I knew they were communal settlements in Israel. I knew of someone who went to live on a kibbutz a few years ago. But I really did not understand their history or what they were all about. Now I do, and did some research about them. Oh – I was also fascinated by the story of the Yemen Jews being flown from Yemen to Israel by the thousands in 1949. I’d never heard of this. Do a search for “Yemen Jews 1949” and you’ll find fascinating info.
Meanwhile, the character Ari Ben Cannan will stay with me a long time, and I want to dance the hora!