Monday, October 26, 2009

Mitla Pass by Leon Uris

I read Exodus about 18 months ago (check that, exactly two years ago, oddly enough) and found it fascinating. It was my first Leon Uris book; I looked forward to reading more. So, when I found Mitla Pass at the library book sale I picked it up. After reading some light fluffy novels I was ready for something a bit heavier and picked up Uris.

Like Exodus, Mitla Pass tells the story of Israel: the 1956 Sinai War with Egypt. But, in true Uris fashion, the character involved in the War is merely a backdrop to tell the story of Jews emigrating and trying to find complete lives in the first half of the twentieth century. All of the characters whose stories are told are the ancestors of Gideon Zadok, a Jewish novelist who has published an incredible bestseller and attempts to write a second.

The Zadok plot has the feel of an autobiography. Reading about the depths of involvement in writing and the emotions surrounding publication and searching for the next great novel intrigued me. If not autobiographical in the strictest sense, I could still see Uris using his own experiences strongly to make this character deep and believable. As an endeavoring author, I found Zadok's trials... inspiring sounds cheesy and over-stated. But honest, maybe. Writing is not a breezy past time, it is remarkably hard work. Uris demonstrates that extremely well.

The majority of the story centers on a variety of characters who are searching for a better life. They start in the Pale of Settlement and immigrate to Israel and the United States. Few of the characters ever find happiness. Few escape the trials of past Jewishness. Certain characters are catty and malicious. Others are deeply unhappy and bitter. It was hard to love Uris' characters in Mitla Pass. Does Uris do a good job showing the horrific plight for many of the worlds' Jewish population between the 1870s and the 1950s?
That is what makes Uris great. But I had trouble engaging with and keeping focused on the plight of surly, miserable individuals who seemed to revel in their unhappiness.

I am glad that I read Mitla Pass. I feel better educated about Uris' world and the lived experiences of the Israelis. I would not necessarily recommend this book to others though. It is not one of his best. It drags and the characters are hard to relate to.

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