Monday, January 13, 2014

1959: Exodus by Leon Uris

The Author:

     Leon Uris (1924-2003) was born in Baltimore, Maryland.  His parents were Jewish immigrants from eastern Europe.  Uris never finished high school, opting to drop out and enlist in the Marine Corps during his senior year.  He served in combat in Guadalcanal.  After the war, Uris moved to San Francisco with his wife, also a former Marine.  While there, he worked for a local newspaper.  In 1953, his first novel, Battle Cry, was published to huge popular success.  From there he was given a job in the story department of Warner Brothers Studios.

      In 1955, he released his second novel, The Angry Hills and, in 1956, penned the screenplay for Gunfight at the O.K. Corral.  In 1958, he published Exodus, which became a runaway success, becoming the first of two annual bestsellers on this list and earning him a considerable fan following. In 1961, Uris released Mila 18 (fun fact: Catch-22 was originally title Catch-18, but publishers were worried it would be mistaken for Uris's novel).  Trinity was published in 1976.  Uris kept writing until his death in 2003.  He was married three times over the course of his life and had five children.  He died of renal failure.

The Book:

Length: 599 pages
Subject/Genre: Jewish history, Israel/Historical Fiction

    Exodus's story centers around the founding of the nation of Israel in 1948 and the relationship between and American nurse named Kitty Fremont and a Palestinian Jewish soldier and Mossad agent, Ari Ben Canaan.  Uris conducted years of research, including thousands of interviews in and around Israel, for this novel.  While the main through-line of the story is the Israel's independence from the British, large segments of the novel focus on Jewish history in Europe, including the Warsaw ghetto uprising, Auschwitz, and the Russian pogroms.
       Much of the novel reads like a political suspense/thriller, which is appropriate for a novel that is very political.  Uris has a clear bias when it comes to Zionism, which is apparent in the sense that he is showing one side of the question.  Regardless of your personal opinions on the subject, Uris does a good job presenting the argument of one side of a complex debate.

   While this debate is common in American political discourse today, it was in fact Uris's novel that brought it to the forefront of public attention when it was published in 1958.  Like most authors on this list, Uris already had at least one popular book published before he became a top bestseller, but the popularity of Exodus specifically is worth noting upon.  The end of the fifties and beginning of the sixties were some of the harshest years of the Cold War.  World politics is at the forefront of the bestsellers list as well, with 1958's bestseller, Doctor Zhivago, focusing on the origins of the Soviet Union, and 1960's bestseller, Advise and Consent, focusing on Senate politics and the Secretary of State.  Exodus made Israel a subject of political discussion for the U.S. public.
     The novel was adapted for the screen in 1960.  The nearly three and a half hour long film starred Paul Newman as Ari Ben Canaan and Eva Marie Saint as Kitty Fremont.

  If you're interested in WWII/holocaust stories, or twentieth century geopolitics, Exodus would probably suit your tastes.  The novel bounces back and forth between the main storyline and a number of historical episodes, which can be annoying, even if it's informative.  

Best Selling Novels of 1959:
1. Exodus by Leon Uris
2. Doctor Zhivago by Boris Pasternak
3. Hawaii by James Michener
4. Advise and Consent by Allen Drury
5. Lady Chatterley's Lover by D. H. Lawrence
6. The Ugly American by Eugene L. Burdick
7. Dear and Glorious Physician by Taylor Caldwell
8. Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov
9. Mrs. 'Arris Goes to Paris by Paul Gallico
10. Poor No More by Robert Ruark

Also Published in 1959:
Robert Block - Psycho
William S. Burroughs - Naked Lunch
Günter Grass - The Tin Drum
Robert Heinlein - Starship Troopers
Shirley Jackson - The Haunting of Hill House
Philip Roth - Goodbye, Columbus
Kurt Vonnegut - The Sirens of Titan

Uris, Leon. Exodus. 1958. New York: Bantam Books, 1959. Print.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for these - always interesting. Have you considered mentioning which book (of the best-sellers you've read) you personally consider the best of each year? I've read four of those for 1959, and would think Advise and Consent the best.