I've really enjoyed the books of Uris I've read so far, especially "Exodus" and "The Haj". So when I found out that he has another book on the subject of Israeli history, I knew I had to read it as well. Every author has a unique signature, which you begin to recognize after reading a couple of his books. Uris is no different. In fact, he has several very strong signatures that come up time after time in every book. The three I've found to be most conspicuous are:
  1. A strong affection for Jews and dislike of Arabs. This shows most firmly in the characters. Usually, the Jew characters are moral, gallant, fair and generally very positive.
  2. A tendency to digress into long side-stories, usually telling about the backgrounds of the main characters.
  3. American machoism, especially in relation to the prototypical "ex-Marine" (whom Uris, unsurprisingly, is by himself)
Well, while reading "Mitla Pass" I found that signature (1) is suppressed to the point of reversion, signature (2) is absurdly intensified, and signature (3) stayed the same. I'll elaborate: Somehow, in most of the background stories in this book, Uris chooses to present a lot of extremely negative Jewish characters. It appears that he did a good amount of research on all the negative stereotypes Jews have (such as weakness of character, promiscuity, parsimoniousness, nagging and complaining, the impossible nature of older women of east-European origin and so on), and did quite an effort to amplify it. I wonder at the reason for doing so. Is it that he was criticized for highlighting the positive stereotypes too much in earlier books ? I have the most nits to pick with (anti-)signature (2). Uris just took it way too far with the amount of digressions in this book. Of the 500 pages, I don't think it would be an exaggeration to say that about 10% are dedicated to the main plot, and the other 90% are spent in side-stories, mostly about the family of Gideon. Really, it appears like an un-edited version of the book. I was hoping to find interesting historical information about the life in Israel on the verge of the 1956 war in Sinai, and on the war itself, but the meager amount of text the author dedicated to the main plot made it almost trivial and completely devoid of substance. I don't want to conclude this review with a negative tone though, since I've liked the book, all things considered. Leon Uris definitely knows how to write, and his ability to intermix a page-turning plot with interesting historical background is awesome. While the vast amounts of digressions made the main plot useless, the side-stories themselves are very enjoyable (if you ignore the anti-Jewish stereotypes) and deal with several interesting periods of Jewish history in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. So all in all, this book is recommended, although you'll be disappointed if you look for a masterpiece like "Exodus".


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