Picks and Pans Review: The Haj
by Leon Uris
After writing novels about Jewish and Christian history (Exodus and Trinity), Leon Uris takes on—or attacks—the Arabs, focusing on a Palestinian refugee leader searching for a way to create a home for his people during the Israeli war for independence. For those who like the Uris formula, it's all here: plenty of breaks in the plot where the author delivers lengthy topographical descriptions and history lessons full of hard-to-remember names. Then, of course, there's the inimitable writing style. The book begins, "I am Ishmael," but it's hardly a Moby Haj. Except for its great length, Uris' writing bears little resemblance to Melville's. For instance: 'From the moment of his birth, Gideon Asch was to become the future." (Did anyone ever become the past after birth?) For no apparent reason Uris also wrote parts of The Haj in the voice of the Arab leader's teenage son. The boy's final entry, written after he loses his mind, sounds like a ninth grader's first writing assignment: "In Allah's name, do I hear locusts? No, there is a thickness moving toward me, but they are not locusts...they are...People." Worst of all, Uris portrays all Arabs as lump-headed cutthroats, while all the Jews are clever and brave. Politics aside, it's no fun to read a book that makes you root for the main character's enemies. (Doubleday, $17.95)
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