Exodus (novel)

Exodus (novel)

Infobox Book
name = Exodus
title_orig =
translator =


image_caption =
author = Leon Uris
illustrator =
cover_artist =
country = United States
language = English
series =
subject =
genre = Historical fiction
publisher = Doubleday & Company
pub_date = 1958
english_pub_date =
media_type = Print (Hardcover)
pages = 626 pages
isbn =
oclc =
preceded_by =
followed_by =

"Exodus" by American novelist Leon Uris is about the founding of the State of Israel. Published in 1958, it is based on the name of the 1947 immigration ship "Exodus".

In 1956, Uris covered the Arab-Israeli fighting as a war correspondent. Two years later, "Exodus" was published by Doubleday. The idea for the book evolved out of a conversation with the author and Malcolm Stuart, his agent. "Exodus" became an international publishing phenomenon, the biggest bestseller in the United States since "Gone with the Wind". Uris had sold the film rights in advance.

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.

A film based on the novel was directed by Otto Preminger in 1960 featuring Paul Newman as Ari Ben Canaan. It focused mainly on the escape from Cyprus and subsequent events in Israel.

Main characters

The main strength of the book is its vivid description of different people and the conflicts in their lives. As in several of Uris's novels, some of the fictional characters are partially based upon one or more historical personages, or act as metaphors for the various peoples who helped to build modern Israel.

Ari Ben Canaan

The character around whom the story is woven, Ari Ben Canaan was born and raised on a kibbutz, but goes on to become one of the mainstays of the Israeli freedom movement. His father is Barak Ben Canaan (formerly Jossi Rabinsky, born in the Russian Pale of Settlement), head of the Jewish Agency for Palestine. His uncle is Akiva (formerly Yakov Rabinsky), leader of 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 engaged to a young woman, Dafna, who was tortured 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 (organization for illegal immigration), 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'. He is probably based on 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 2 experience. Ben Canaan is also reported, however, to be based upon Yehudah Arazi.

The novel describes Ari as six feet and three inches tall, with black hair and blue eyes, and very handsome.

Katherine "Kitty" Fremont

An American nurse newly widowed, she meets Ari Ben Canaan in Cyprus. Grieving for her lost husband and the recent death of her daughter due to polio, Kitty develops a maternal attachment toward Karen Hansen Clement, a German refugee in a Cyprus displaced persons 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.

She is described in the novel as being tall, blonde, blue-eyed, and beautiful.

Bruce Sutherland

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 fellow 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. This facet may be based on the activities of Mickey Marcus, although Marcus himself (under his real-life alias of "Colonel Stone") makes a brief appearance in the book.

Karen Hansen Clement

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 were subsequently interned in concentration camps, where most of them met their end. Karen does meet her father again in Israel, but he is a broken man who is unable to communicate or recognise his daughter. The experience leaves her unnerved and shattered. Despite this, she maintains her gentle and dainty personality. Before she is transported to Israel, Karen is placed in a Cypriot refugee camp, where a romance between Karen and Dov Landau begins.

Dov Landau

A quiet, introverted teenage boy who lost his entire family to the Holocaust, Dov has not merely survived the horrors of ghetto life in Warsaw and of concentration camp in Auschwitz, but has learned from them to turn circumstances to his advantage. A master forger, he narrowly escapes the gas chamber by displaying to the camp doctor his talent. The doctor is not able to tell the difference between his own signature and the five copies that Dov makes. He does work as a forger, but is then assigned to work as 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 terrorist organization that is headed by Barak's brother. He is being driven by a thirst for revenge "that only God or a bullet can stop". Karen is the only person for whom he is able to feel any emotion. He later becomes a Major in the army of Israel, and unofficially engaged to Karen, but after she is murdered, he forces himself to go on working for Israel, as she would have wished.

In the film version of the book, Dov Landau survived Auschwitz not as a master forger, but as a forced prostitute for homosexual SS officers. (When applying to the Irgun and queried how he survived, he breaks down and explains: "They used me! ... Like you use a woman.")

Jordana Ben Canaan (peripheral character)

Ari's fiery younger sister and a leader of the Palmach (Haganah elite unit), she is engaged to 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. She changes her opinion when Kitty saves Ari's life and later becomes more identified with Israel's struggle.

The book describes her as tall, and having red hair and blue eyes.

Barak Ben Canaan (peripheral character)

Born Jossi Rabinsky.Father of Ari Ben-Canaan. After moving to the Land of Israel, he insists on only speaking Hebrew rather than Russian or Yiddish and actually refuses to speak to his wife until she addresses him in Hebrew. This aspect seems to be inspired by (possibly apocryphal) anecdotes about the real-life Eliezer Ben-Yehuda.

Barak is 6 feet and 3 inches tall, has red hair and blue eyes.

Akiva (peripheral character)

Born Yakov Rabinsky.Brother of Barak Ben Canaan. Poet and leader of the radical underground group the 'Maccabees'. While the latter bears some resemblance to the real-life Irgun (Etze"l), Akiva seems to be inspired by Avraham Stern.

He is of medium height, with brown eyes and dark hair.

Literary significance & criticisms

Mixing of historical characters with fictional characters and composite characters and events is quite common in this fictional genre for plot development. Other successful historical fiction authors (Patrick O'Brian, C.S. Forrester, Herman Wouk, etc.) have also successfully used these devices.

Further reading

*Weissbrod, Rachel, "Exodus as a Zionist Melodrama" in: "Israel Studies" 4.1 (1999) 129-152


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