Exodus (novel)

From Academic Kids

See Exodus (disambiguation) for other meanings of the word.

Exodus is a novel written in 1958 by American novelist Leon Uris about the founding of the state of Israel. The story unfolds with the protagonist, Ari Ben Canaan, hatching a plot to transport Jewish refugees from a British detention camp in Cyprus to Palestine. The operation is carried out under the auspices of the Mossad. The book then goes on to trace the histories of the various main characters and the ties of their personal lives to the birth of the new Jewish state.

A film based on the novel was directed by Otto Preminger in 1960.


Main Characters

The main strength of the book is its vivid description of different people and the conflicts in their lives.

Ari Ben Canaan

The character around whom the story is woven, Ben Canaan was born and raised on a kibbutz, but goes on to become one of the mainstays of the Israeli freedom movement. His father is Barak Ben Canaan (formerly Jossi Rabinsky of Russia), head of the Jewish Agency for Palestine and his uncle is Akiva Ben Canaan (formerly Yakov Rabinsky), leader of the Maccabees, a militant organization (based on the Irgun). As a young man he was engaged to a young woman, Dafna, who was tortured and murdered by Arabs. Dafna later becomes the namesake of the youth camp, Gan Dafna, around which a large part of the story unfolds. As part of the Mossad Aliyah Bet (underground intelligence and military operation), Ari is extremely creative in devising techniques to bring Jews from all over the world to Palestine - more than allowed by the British quota. This is his main occupation until Israel gains freedom, when he joins the Israeli army and is assigned to the Negev desert. He is often boastful about his good looks and sees himself as part of a new breed of Jew who will not 'turn the other cheek'.

Katherine "Kitty" Fremont

An American nurse newly widowed, she meets Ari Ben Canaan in Cyprus. Grieving for her lost husband and a recent miscarriage, Kitty develops a maternal attachment toward Karen Hansen Clement, a German refugee in a Cyprus displaced persons camp. This attachment and her attraction toward Ben Canaan result in her getting involved in the freedom struggle. She eventually becomes irritated at Ari's lack of emotion towards violent deaths, but comes to understand and accept his dedication to Israel.

Bruce Sutherland

A British military officer (rank of brigadier) whose mother was Jewish. He is assigned to the detention camps in Cyprus and like many British aristocrats has a stifling, formal manner of speech. Internally, he is torn between his sympathies with the fellow Jews he watches over and his duties as a British officer; the horrors he witnessed when his battalion marched into Buchenwald is also a factor. He is dismissed from the army after 300 youths led by Ari Ben Canaan manage to flee to Palestine; despite this he moves to Palestine and becomes good friends with Ben Canaan.

Karen Hansen Clement

A German teenaged girl who was brought up for a while by foster parents in Denmark. She was sent there by her family when Hitler rose to power in Germany. Her family were subsequently interned in concentration camps, where most of them met their end. Karen does meet her father again, after Israel gain independence, but he is a broken man and the experience leaves her unnerved and shattered. Despite this, she maintains her gentle and dainty personality. In Cyprus, we see the beginnings of a romance between her and Dov Landau, a survivor of the Warsaw ghetto and of Auschwitz.

Dov Landau

A quiet, introverted teenaged boy who lost his entire family to the Holocaust, Dov has not merely survived the horrors of ghetto life in Warsaw and of concentration camp in Auschwitz, but has learnt from them to turn circumstances to his advantage. A master forger, he narrowly escapes the gas chamber by displaying to the camp doctor his talent. The doctor is not able to tell the difference between his own signature and the five copies that Dov makes. He later joins the Maccabees, a Jewish terrorist organisation that is headed by Ari's paternal uncle. Karen is the only person for whom he feels anything.

Jordana Ben Canaan (peripheral character)

Ari's fiery younger sister and a leader of the Palmach (Haganah elite unit), she is engaged to David Ben Ami. Jordana is initally hostile toward Kitty, believing that American women are no good for anything other than dressing up prettily. She changes her opinion when Kitty saves Ari's life.


Although the novel has been a tremendous success, it has been criticised on a number of counts. It contains a number of passages which many people would regard as anti-Arab racism. Furthermore, with its negative comments about the Yiddish language, it takes a very negative attitude to the whole Diaspora Jewish experience.

de:Exodus (Leon Uris)


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