Archive for Wednesday, June 25, 2003

Exodus’ author Leon Uris dies

June 25, 2003


— Leon Uris, whose best-selling novel "Exodus" offered the world a heroic tale of the founding of Israel and an image of Jews as muscular, sunburned avengers, has died at 78.

Uris, who died of congestive heart failure Saturday at his home on New York's Shelter Island, was as much an adventurer as an author, and his other novels included the spy thriller "Topaz"; the courtroom drama "QBVII"; "Mila 18," about the Jewish uprising in Warsaw during World War II; and "Trinity," an epic about the Irish.

But it was "Exodus," published in 1958, that created the biggest sensation among readers and was turned into a 1960 movie starring Paul Newman.

Millions read Uris' detailed chronicle of European Jewry from the turn of the century to the establishment of Israel in 1948. The novel was translated into dozens of languages and was distributed secretly in communist countries.

"Exodus" was published just 10 years after Israeli statehood and less than 15 years after the Holocaust. The world had become used to newsreel images of emaciated Jews being marched to their death. But Uris told a different story, of a victorious people standing tall under the desert sun.

"Clearly, 'Exodus' is an ennobling version, pretty much a wartless version of a very real place," said Melvin Jules Bukiet, a professor of writing at Sarah Lawrence College and editor of several anthologies of Jewish writing. "But I think it marked a very powerful moment in terms of the perception of Israel, both for Jews and non-Jews."

But Israeli historian and author Tom Segev criticized Uris as the "chief mythologist of Zionism." He said Uris drew a picture of Israel and Zionism that was glorified beyond reality, and "it was more harmful than helpful."

"None of us is Ari Ben-Canaan, none of us is Paul Newman," Segev said, referring to the main character in the movie version, which also featured Sal Mineo and Eva Marie Saint.

The muscular Uris was himself a story of self-transformation, a Jewish immigrant's son who grew rich, strong and fearless. The author traveled tirelessly, sometimes risking his life. In researching "Exodus," he logged thousands of miles and ended up reporting on the 1956 Arab-Israeli war.

Uris also waged some of his own battles, fighting lawsuits over both "Exodus" and "Topaz" and feuding with directors Otto Preminger and Alfred Hitchcock. Preminger reportedly fired Uris as screenwriter of the film version of "Exodus," and Hitchcock was said to have done the same on the movie adaptation of "Topaz."

"Mila 18" (1960) was an unintentional influence on both American publishing and American slang: Its title led a rival publisher to change the name of an upcoming novel, by a then-unknown Joseph Heller, from "Catch-18" to "Catch-22."

In 1976, Uris had great success with "Trinity," a typically encyclopedic novel that traces three Irish families from the mid-19th century to the Easter Rising of 1916. Writing in The New York Times Book Review, Pete Hamill criticized the "excess baggage of exposition and information," but concluded: "None of that matters as you are swept along in the narrative."

Uris' latest work, about the Marine Corps, is titled "O'Hara's Choice" and was set for release in October.

"Battle Cry," 1953"The Angry Hills," 1955"Exodus," 1958"Mila 18," 1960"Armageddon: A Novel of Berlin," 1964"Topaz," 1967"QB VII," 1970"Ireland: A Terrible Beauty: The Story of Ireland Today," with Jill Uris, 1975"Trinity," 1976"The Haj," 1984"Jerusalem, Song of Songs," with Jill Uris, 1981"Mitla Pass," 1988"Redemption," 1995"A God in Ruins: A Novel," 1999"O'Hara's Choice," 2003

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