Saturday, September 20, 2014

Bosom Buddy Books: Exodus and The Haj

If I were to ever sit down and write a most influential ten or twenty or fifty books I've read, more than likely Exodus by Leon Uris would appear somewhere on that list; however, I can't mention Uris's excellent Exodus without recognizing his equally excellent book, The HajExodus famously chronicles in classic historical fiction fashion the migration of Jews to Palestine during the 1940s and the eventual establishment of the State of Israel.  The Haj, on the other hand, tells the story of those people who saw the Jews as interlopers and enemies forcing their way into a land claimed by too many people. 

Reading Exodus was enlightening and solidified much of my already existing sympathetic feelings toward the State of Israel.  The book isn't written as an apology for Israelis or their nation, but it certainly gives reasons for supporting the creation of a Jewish state and justification for that state to defend itself.  Exodus received plenty of acclaim in its day and was adapted into a major motion picture starring Paul Newman.  The book is one of the finest historical novels I've ever read, and I would recommend it to most anyone without hesitation.

The Haj is little known, and I think that's a shame.  The Haj tells the story of an Arab family that is unavoidably caught up in the drama and struggle of the Jewish state and its people.  The book has been criticized for lacking perspective and a fair treatment of the Arabs.  Considering how polarizing the issue continues to be today, which now takes the form of the conflict between the Israelis and Palestinians, no book dealing with the issue, it seems, can truly be immune to accusations of bias, in one way or another.  The Haj may show some of the darker sides of the Arab culture, but there is plenty of evidence to show those cultural deficiencies (for such they are) were present at the time the book was set and continue on to this very day.  The Haj does leave the reader with little hope for the Arab people and their plight, mostly due to their own actions and cultural weaknesses.  (It reminded me of the hopelessly depressing end to Lawrence of Arabia in which the Arabs have conquered their external enemies and then become enemies to each other).  That viewpoint may be right or wrong, but the book, in my opinion, is written well enough and is interesting enough to warrant a reading.  Even if one disagrees, I think understanding the viewpoint of the Arabs the book presents is a valuable exercise.

Looking at two different perspectives in reference to the same conflict (although some would argue The Haj is not a different perspective) is one of the most efficacious ways we learn.  Yet, I don't wish to portray The Haj as a history book.  The fiction part of its historical setting is a large part of why the book is as entertaining as it is.  Like Exodus, I was most involved and interested in the characters, which Uris is an expert at creating.  I came for the characters, I stayed for the characters, and my natural inclination toward the setting and time period was an added bonus. 

If a reader takes the time to enjoy Exodus, then I think it's a natural and necessary next step to read The Haj.  It's not a direct sequel or prequel, but the themes are so similar and the struggles so common it feels as if you're reading chapters from Exodus that Uris forgot to include.  From a fairness perspective, that may be a disadvantage instead of an advantage, but I enjoyed reading The Haj as much as I did Exodus.  And when you consider the fact that Exodus is one of my favorite books of all time, that's a very meaningful compliment for The Haj.

Other Topics of Interest:
Writing History I can't Forget: Leon Uris
Bosom Buddy Books: The Prince and the Radical

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