Abandoned Books

Reviews of books and authors not much discussed on the web.

Location: Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Monday, May 29, 2006

Leon Uris -- Information

Here's the Wikipedia entry on him:


And here's a rather better biographical piece from kirjasto:


I was particularly struck by this:

In 1950 Esquire bought an article on football; it marked the beginning of his career as a full-time writer.

Reminding me of the immense importance of Esquire in American fiction of the Fifties and Sixties, for better and worse. And this, too:

After divorce in 1965, Uris married in 1968 Margery Edwards; she died next year - it was an apparent suicide. In 1970 Uris married the photographer Jill Peabody; they had two children. She became his chief editor and published in collaboration with Uris two books, IRELAND: A TERRIBLE BEAUTY (1975) and JERUSALEM: SONG OF SONGS (1981). They were divorced in 1989.

He must have been tough to live with.

Here's the link to an interesting essay I found in Reason, of all places:

Freund crafts an interesting argument that America's vision of Israel owes a lot to Exodus.

The work's real impact, however, lay beyond mere literature. For a great many people, the plot of the novel—and of the even more popular 1960 film—became the popular template for understanding the Mideast, especially issues involving the unending Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Uris popularized Israel as a place of righteous refuge, solidifying a link between the Holocaust and Israel that is actually a matter of contention among Israel's own historians and intellectuals. This is not to say that his story was false; the refuge narrative is at least one valid Israeli theme. But Uris helped make it the primary such narrative, characterizing critics of Israeli policy in terms of that story, and setting the terms of debate for decades.

This is maybe even true, although it strikes me as speculation only. For one thing, you'd need to have been around before Exodus and the founding of Israel and interested in the subject to really be in a position to report knowledgeably about it, and how many people can truly do that?

Secondly, while I do think that fiction can have this kind of power, the only way to accurately measure it would be to give us the whole context: what else was being published pro and con, what people thought of those books, the movie, what people thought of it, how it differed, etc. Freund later goes on to point out some of this, but he doesn't want to go into much detail, presumably because that will spoil the simple clarity of his thesis. Yet, unfortunately, that's what a sociological analysis is all about -- the presentation of context. Hence it's great limitation: when grossly over-simplified, it can give you sexy arguments, but the more seriously you take it the more muddled and cloudy the picture gets.

I'm actually much more interested in a point Freund essentially throws away:

Obits of Uris were respectful, noting dutifully that he was never regarded as much of a stylist, and that he had relatively little talent for character. According to these postmortem appreciations, Uris's real strength was story telling. The New York Times, for example, paid mixed homage to Uris by quoting from a 1976 review by Pete Hamill. "[I]t is a simple thing," wrote Hamill of a later Uris novel, "to point out that Uris often writes crudely, that his dialogue can be wooden, that his structure occasionally groans under the excess baggage of exposition and information. Simple, but irrelevant. None of that matters as you are swept along in the narrative."

Leave aside for the moment that Freund has to believe this for his thesis to work. If it turns out that Uris isn't much of a storyteller, either, than he can't be blamed/praised for "setting the template". I'm more concerned about Hamill's quote, which is in danger of fixing the opinion of Uris once and for all.

I'm all for speaking kindly of the dead: it's a service we owe each other. But I'm also all for speaking the truth, too, and I think enough time has passed to point out that Hamill was nuts. Leave aside how a man who writes crudely, with wooden dialogue and structures groaning under towers of useless exposition and information can in any way be said to be a good "storyteller". Even on the basic level of plot, Uris was pretty hopeless. His best plotted book is probably Mila 18, the structure of which (a unified setting and a relatively restricted moment in time) inadvertantly helped him. In general, though, Uris's books are plotted like beads on a string, one incident following another with no particular organic connection between them. One often gets the sense of a man vamping about endlessly, trying to fill a wordcount. This is especially true in Battle Cry; QB VII (although still I think his best book) is notable for it's endless flashbacks that meander along aimlessly. I personally found both Exodus and Trinity almost unreadable for exactly this reason -- they became bestsellers despite their writer, not because of him.


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