Mitla Pass: a novel by Leon Uris

“Mitla Pass” cover is all text; the story’s too complex for a picture.The first chapter of Mitla Pass suggests the novel will be a war story.

What Leon Uris delivers is a story of the personal war of writer Gideon Zadok, a man with “the soul of a poet, the rage of a lion.”

Gideon has spent this entire life doing battle against his father, his mother, his wife, the publishing industry, and everyone and everything else that failed to value him.

Uris excavates Gideon’s past. He uncovers stories of people Gideon thinks let him down, flicking a flashlight into Russian shetetls, American slums, Hollywood studios, and Israeli strategy sessions.

Readers see all those individuals in a far more nuanced way than Gideon ever sees them.

For all his literary sensitivity, Gideon is incapable of seeing other people’s perspectives on any subject that affects him personally.

As the novel nears its end, Uris gets Gideon to the 1956 Sinai War foreshadowed in the opening chapter.

The battle for Mitla Pass is short, bloody, futile.

The book ends with Gideon’s wife wondering if their marriage will survive, while beside her, Gideon dreams that he’s going to make people proud of him.

Mitla Pass by Leon Uris
Doubleday. ©1988. 435 p.
1988 bestseller #10; my grade: A

©2019 Linda G. Aragoni

Trinity: Easy reading Irish history

Leon Uris’s Trinity is a huge doorstop of a novel about the socioeconomic and political history of Ireland from the early nineteenth century into World War I.

Trinity's dust jacket has colored bands of green, white, and orange
Color bands represent Ireland’s Catholics, English, and Protestants.

Through those years, Uris focuses on three families with different loyalties.

A Catholic family named Larkins scratch a bare subsistence from hillside farms in Ballyutogue.

The Hubble family headed by the Earls of Foyle, English aristocrats, owe their position and wealth to England.

The MacLeods, a Belfast shipbuilding family, is committed to the Scottish-Presbyterian Protestantism and the British Crown that established them in Ulster for reasons of state.

Uris weaves the three families together through a single character, Conor Larkin, age 12 as the story opens and 43 when he dies in 1916 fighting for his vision of an independent Ireland.

Reading Trinity, I realized that what little I know of Irish history has come primarily through the filter of English novelists. It had never registered with me that the position of Ireland in nineteenth century (and beyond) was like that of America in the eighteenth century: a colony.

Uris wraps his fictional characters in cloaks of history and as he unwraps the historical figures from them, simultaneously providing good entertainment with a substantial history lesson.

Trinity by Leon Uris
Doubleday, 1976. 751 p.
1976 bestseller #1. My grade: A

© 2018 Linda Gorton Aragoni

QB VII asks: What would you have done?

Leon Uris’s QB VII tackles antisemitism the way a terrier tackles a rat.

QB VII has a no-nonsense look.
Dust jacket of this copy of QB VII has disappeared.

Uris introduces readers to Dr. Adam Kelno as he leaves Jadweiga Concentration Camp. Soviet-dominated Warsaw has no place for a Polish Nationalist.

Kelno lands in England where he spends two years in Brixton Prison while England decides whether to allow his extradition to Poland to face war-crimes charges.

Exonerated, Kelno and his family flee as far as possible from Europe. In Borneo he does medical work for which he is knighted.

Returning to England, Kelno settles into small clinic, doctoring longshoremen and immigrants.

One day an English medical student from Borneo shows Kelno a paragraph in Abraham Cady’s book The Holocaust . It says Kelno performed experimental operations for the SS without the use of anesthetic.

Kelno sues Cady for libel.

The suit is heard at QB VII: courtroom 7 of the Queen’s Bench.

Uris produces rounded pictures of both Kelno, a Polish Catholic, and Cady, an American Jew, both of whom have their share of flaws. Reader’s sympathies are pulled one way and then the other.

QB VII is a tense, fast-reading novel that leaves readers to ponder what they would have done in Jadweiga.

QB VII by Leon Uris
Doubleday 970 [1st ed]. 504 p.
1970 bestseller #6. My grade: A-

© 2018 Linda Gorton Aragoni

Topaz digs the dirt on Russian disinformation campaign

Topaz is a political thriller on a hot topic of the sixties: Russia’s attempt to put missiles in Cuba.Military dress hat and gloves adorn Topaz dust jacket of Topaz

As a dictator threatens the US with nuclear attack and the US investigates the Russians’ disinformation tactics in the 2016 election, Topaz seems timely again.

Topaz by Leon Uris
McGraw-Hill, [1967] 341 p. 1964 bestseller #4. My grade: B.

Leon Uris weaves a story that involves people at the highest levels of the diplomatic services in America, France, and Russia, including a fictionalized John F. Kennedy-like character.

The story begins when a KGB agent seeking to defect contacts Americans secret service agents in Copenhagen.

The US gives Brois Kuznetov and his family asylum.

Kuznetov insists André Devereaux, head of the French secret service in Washington, be present when he is interrogated.

Kuznetov revels he ran a secret department, code name Topaz, that specialized in disinformation.

Topaz accomplished much of its highly successful effort to mislead America by leaking information to their French allies who passed it on. The KGB’s work reached to office of the French president.

Characters interest Uris more than events: He makes opportunities to tell of their lives years prior to the story’s start.

His biographical sketches make his characters believably ordinary, despite their important political roles.

And political victories take a back seat to friendships.

© 2017 Linda Gorton Aragoni

Psychology and politics underlie my 1964 picks

Psychology and politics, or more accurately the psychology of people in political conflicts, are the topics of three of my favorites of the 1964 bestsellers:  Armageddon by Leon Uris, The Man by Irving Wallace, and The Martyred by Richard E. Kim.

Oddly enough, the central characters of each of these novels are not themselves memorable.

Armageddon is a fictional account of the Berlin airlift. The effort’s mastermind controls the action from off stage. What readers remember is the incredible ingenuity and endurance of the mass of unnamed men and women who made the airlift succeed.

The Man is a fictional account of a run-of-the-mill senator shocked into rising to the occasion when, through no effort or desire of his own, he becomes America’s first black President. Douglass Dilman’s very ordinariness makes the story memorable and him forgettable: I can picture scenes from the novel vividly, but had to go back to look up the title character’s name.

The Martyred also turns around a character whose personality is less memorable than those of the less pivotal characters: South Korean Army Capt. Lee.

Lee puts his brain power into discovering what happened to a group of South Korean pastors when they were captured by the Communists.  The intellectually understandable facts provide no explanation. The pastors’ behaviors arose from fear, love, and faith rather than from facts. Thus their behavior is comprehensible only through sympathy and insight.

If you want a real brain workout, read and compare these three novels.

That will keep you off the streets until the snow melts in Maine.


Armageddon Reveals the Price of Building Peace

dust jacket of ArmageddonArmageddon is a sprawling novel set as World War II ends and the Soviets move to turn Europe into Communist satellites.

The themes Leon Uris raises are as familiar as today’s news, but easier to examine with a degree of objectivity in a 75-year-old setting.

War-weary Americans want to pull out of Germany and let the Germans fend for themselves. General A. J. Hansen begs  American politicians to plan for a post-war political settlement.  He sees withdrawal would give rise to a more serious threat than Hitler’s Reich.

Hansen assembles a team of experts lead in everything from electrical generation to municipal government to design a plan for governing Germany after the war. Hansen sends them to a Nazi stronghold where they deploy and refine their plan.

Then Hansen redirects them to Berlin to begin guiding the city into rebuilding on democratic principles before the Russians can build Berlin into a Communist satellite.

When the Russians block all land routes into the city, leaving Berliners to face starvation in the frigid winter, Hansen fights against Congressional and military leaders to win presidential approval to attempt to supply the city by air.

Although Hansen is behind most of the novel’s action, he’s rarely seen in the novel. Uris reserves the role of the hero for the team of men who put their individual expertise at the service of America. Uris lists yards of facts about the Berlin airlift, emphasizing the monumental achievement and personal self-effacement of the men who made it happen.­

It takes a rare kind of man to serve his country without the benefit of pyrotechnics or reward and a different kind of courage to keep your mouth shut and go on working and believing when you are positive those around you are wrong. We don’t have enough men of this kind of dedication.

by Leon Uris
Doubleday 1964
632 pages
1964 bestseller #4
My grade: B+

© 2014 Linda Gorton Aragoni

Mila 18 commemorates Warsaw ghetto uprising

Mila 18 is a fictional account of the Jewish uprising against the Nazis in the Warsaw Ghetto in 1943.

Leon Uris weaves together the stories of Jews inside the Ghetto with stories both of their friends and their enemies outside.

The Jews are deeply divided over how to respond to the Nazi threat. Many hope it will go away if ignored. Some want to appease. Some want to fight.

As the Nazis systematically depopulate the Ghetto, a core of those ready to fight forms in secret basement rooms beneath Mila 18.

Led by Andrei Androfski, Jews fight unexpectedly and valiantly. Only a few escape, getting out through the sewers, but among them is a gentile journalist who knows where the Jews buried documents detailing their ghetto experience.

If the plot of Mila 18 sounds vaguely familiar, it’s because John Hersey used the same historical outline for his 1950 bestseller The Wall.

Uris’s addition of non-Jewish characters like the Nazi Horst von Epp and Polish collaborator Franz Koenig adds to readers’ understanding of events, particularly the ethnic rivalries that gave the Nazis a foothold, but weakens the novel’s focus.

If you can read only one novel about the Warsaw uprising, choose The Wall instead.

Mila 18
By Leon Uris
Doubleday, 1961
442 pages
1961 bestseller # 4
My Grade: B +

© 2011 Linda Gorton Aragoni

Exodus: Flimsy Novel, Substantial History

Exodus is an unsatisfactory novel but an intriguing introduction to the history of present day Middle East conflicts.

The story is about an American nurse working among refugee children in the Middle East after World War II.

Kitty is attracted to Ari Ben Canaan, a handsome Jewish leader, but Ari seems cold and unfeeling, capable of no emotion but loyalty to his country. Is this man capable of love?

On that story line, more fragile than an Harlequin Romance, Leon Uris hangs a short history of Israel.

Although Uris outlines the story of Jewish persecutions around the world, his main emphasis is on the refusal of the international community to allow refugees from Nazi concentration camps to come to Israel in the ’40s and ’50s. He says the British were pro-Arab because they wanted Mideast oil. They thought the divided Arabs would be easier to control than united Jews.

Although the Arab-Israeli conflict is still headline news, despite the passage of 50 years,  today’s Americans have forgotten the events surrounding the birth of the state of Israel.

Although Exodus doesn’t have much to recommend it as a novel, it is an enjoyable introduction to Biblical and modern Israeli history.

In case you wondered, Kitty finds Ari is capable of love.

by Leon Uris
Doubleday, 1958
626 pages
1959 bestseller #1
My grade B
© 2009 Linda Gorton Aragoni