by Leon Uris
I like historical fiction. I'm not one for historical facts by themselves. I like stories assigned to history, so if the historical facts have a good story, or if the history is written in a story-telling type fashion, then I like to read history. Being as most history books are written in a this-happened-then-that-happened-meanwhile-something-else-happened-but-wow-look-at-this-map fashion, I didn't (and prolly still don't) appreciate history. I was down-right disgusted by collegiate history, wherein I was stuffed into a class of 200, and forced to hear the monotonous drone of some history shmuck. I'm sure there are some great history teachers out there. I'm sure. I just wasn't granted the pleasured opportunity of being the pupil of one. The boringness of this-happened-then-that-happened-meanwhile-something-else-happened-but-wow-look-at-this-map is what led me to discover the bonus of historical fiction: You learn some historical facts PLUS you get a story. Win-freakin-win.
Now. I've read some historical fiction in my days. And I'm here to adjure, that no one, not a single historical fiction writer extraordinaire, at least in my miniature experience with historical fiction, writes the historical fiction better than Leon Uris. I'll be reading more of 'ole Leon (rhymes with Klingon!)
Whenever I discover a book that screams wow! -- it's true, you open it and it screams wow! -- I immediately turn to the internet so as to research the author. I'm intrigued by an author's background -- where they came from, the time-period of their existence, their education, and all of the ity-bity gee-whizeries that make them who they are.
This is Uris in his younger days.
Leon Uris was born in Baltimore, Maryland in August of 1924. His father, a man named Wolf William Yerushalmi, was Jewish and born in Poland. He spent a year in Palestine after World War I, then immigrated to the United States where he dropped his Yerushalmi last name and adopted Uris. Wolf William Uris married an American named Anna and raised a chap named Leon.
Apparently Leon Uris was a writer from a very young age. He wrote a full-fledged operetta at the age of six after his dog died. According to Wikipedia, Leon Uris failed English three times, and never graduated from high school. The attack on Pearl Harbor inspired Uris to subject himself to the war as a Marine and was stationed in the South Pacific as a radioman. Somewhere along the way, he contacted malaria, and was forced to sit about recovering. That's where he met a Marine sergeant by the name of Betty Beck. They were married. He would have two more wives, and five children.
After the war, Uris wrote war-related articles and whatnot for a newspaper. Esquire magazine picked up one of those articles, and that was when he decided to be a writer. (I suppose. I'm taking some interpretive liberty on the decisions Leon made.)
In the 50s, Uris was contracted to spend a fair amount of time in Israel to learn about the culture and write about it. That cultural observation became a novel called Exodus. (The next of his books that I plan to read.) From that point, Uris would devote many years in Israel and the surrounding regions researching the past and conflicts of that past.
So that's Leon (rhymes with Klingon!), now onto The Haj. The Haj is the fictional story of a Palestinian Arab family from around 1920-1950, set amongst the historically accurate chaos of the Middle East during and after World Wars I and II. This book brings light to the struggle of Arabs and Jews over what each referred to as their "Holy Land." The Arabs have reserved that area as their land for thousands of years. The Jews, on the other hand, struggling from the backlash of Hitler's apocalyptic fury, had no where else to go, so the Brits sent the Jews to Palestine. Traditionally, the two groups have hated each other. My interpretation is that the Arabs were consumed by this ingrained hate for the Jews while the Jews only hate on the defense. Traditionally, they'll continue to hate each other, because, like, duh, after thousands of hating years, that's what you are trained to do.
The main character in the book, a village Tabah nicknamed Haj -- because of his gallant pilgrimage to Mecca -- meets, befriends, and works side-by-side with the leader of the neighboring Jewish community. This Jewish leader is named Gideon Asch. The two form a friendship, one of trust and mutual respect. The Haj's culture, however, will not let him entertain, much less follow through with, the notion of working with and befriending a Jew.
It's a tragic story, no doubt. But one that exposes the background of each religious culture, in an effort to help us understand why it is they do what they do, and perhaps why they continue to do what they do.
I read/look at The Big Picture. Do you read the Big Picture? It's one of my favorites. Throughout the last few months, they've dedicated a post a month to photos of the conflict in Afghanistan. On one of those posts, someone left a comment. I just spent like ten minutes trying to find which post the comment was on, but gave up. Anyway, the comment was along the lines of: The only solution is for the world to ban religion altogether.
I don't post comments on articles like this, because I'm not about to get involved in a pissing contest with strangers. However, if I were to leave a comment, I'd say:
How do you expect the world to ban religion without a war? The only solution is for the world to quit thinking there is a solution.
No religion, some religion -- it makes no difference. Most parts of the world (US included) are culturally locked into our differences. And most will fight to make sure we stay different.
Just my two cents, anyway.