Exodus Summary

Leon Uris

Exodus

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Exodus Summary

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Both highly celebrated and widely critiqued, Exodus explores themes of faith, duty, sacrifice, and freedom through the tale of the struggle to create the state of Israel in Palestine. It begins in Cyprus in 1946 with Mark Parker, an American journalist, meeting his childhood friend, Kitty Fremont, a nurse who looks after orphans on the island. Although Mark says he is there on holiday, the British Army is concerned that he will document them confining Jews to refugee camps so that they cannot travel to Palestine. Elsewhere, David Ben Ami and Ari Ben Canaan, members of the Jewish underground, discuss a plan to illegally move 300 Jewish children to Palestine in a ship called the Exodus. When Ari meets Mark to ask for his support, he also meets Kitty. They share a moment of mutual attraction, and Ari asks her to help by working in the camp. She initially refuses but is swayed after being exposed to the suffering of the refugee children, especially a teenage girl named Karen whom she takes on as a ward and assistant.

The 300 children board the Exodus and the ship sets sail. Following Ari’s plan, Mark sends off his newspaper report on the incident and alerts the British Army, who block the ship. This allows Ari to inform them that the ship will explode if they attempt to board it and that the children are on hunger strike and threatening suicide. Publicized by Mark, this turns public opinion in favor of the escaping Jews, and the British are forced to let the Exodus sail on. Kitty struggles to understand how Ari could so coldly risk the lives of 300 children. Mark explains that understanding Ari requires understanding his family history. The story then moves to the nineteenth century to the tale of Ari’s father, Jossi, and uncle, Yakov,

Two young shoemakers with a passion for religious scholarship, Jossi and Yakov live in the Pale of Settlement, the only region of Russia where Jews are consistently allowed permanent residency. When their father is murdered in a pogrom, Yakov kills the murderer and the brothers are forced to flee. After walking for three years, they finally arrive in Palestine but find the country disappointingly poor and neglected by native Arabs and by Jews living off overseas support. Nevertheless, they work hard to make the region prosper. They take the Hebrew names Barak and Akiva, find wives, and have children, including Ari. They also fight in World War I alongside British forces and later serve in the Haganah, an underground militia that defends Jewish settlers against Palestinian Arabs. When he grows older, Ari also joins the Haganah, along with his fiancé, Dafna, until she is killed by Arabs. Ari continues to serve and works to undermine the British, while his father becomes a negotiator for Israel and stops speaking to his brother when Akiva joins the Jewish terrorist group the Maccabees.

Back in 1946, the Exodus reaches Palestine. After he shows her the country, Kitty develops stronger attractions to both Ari and Palestine, although she still wishes to take Karen to live in America. They find Karen’s father but discover that he went insane when the Nazis tortured him and killed his wife and sons, so he can no longer recognize his daughter. As back-and-forth terrorist actions between anti-Jewish British and the Maccabees escalate, Kitty convinces Karen to leave for America. However, before they can depart, Ari’s uncle Akiva and Karen’s friend Dov are arrested as members of the Maccabee and Ari is injured during the rescue mission. Instead of going to America, Kitty remains to look after Ari and Karen stays with her.

As the British withdraw, tensions between Jews and Arabs escalate into full warfare. Ari falls out with his close Arab friend Taha after he refuses to drive extremists out of Abu Yesha, the Arab village Ari and his father helped develop. Ari helps lead the Jews to victory at Safed, and spreads a rumor that they have an atomic bomb, which causes terrified Arabs to withdraw. The Jews also fight off attacks from neighboring Arab countries. When the Arab inhabitants refuse to leave, Ari is forced to order the destruction of Abu Yesha, causing the deaths of many friends he has known all his life, including Taha. After the United Nations calls a ceasefire, Barak gives them a report on the thousands of Arab refugees the war has created, presenting Israel as a force for progress and justice.

The final section of the book explores the aftermath, examining the individuals’ stories against the backdrop of rapidly expanding immigration into the region. Barak gets cancer but, before he dies, he tells Ari to finally tell Kitty that he needs her. After Barak’s death, his wife and children gather for a Passover feast along with Kitty, Karen’s friend Dov, and Sutherland, a man who had once been the British Army general in charge of the forces in Palestine but has since moved to the region, befriended the Jews, and provided military advice to the Haganah. Karen is also invited but, to their collective horror, the group receives a telephone call reporting that Karen has been killed by Arab fighters. Finally, Ari is overwhelmed with sorrow at all the death he has witnessed and, weeping, tells Kitty he needs her. Sutherland reveals that he has converted to Judaism and presides over the feast as Ari and Kitty return to the meal and Dov reads the story of Exodus, celebrating the Jewish people’s escape from slavery.

Exodus is a vastly successful international bestseller that spent nineteen months as the number one book on the New York Times bestseller list. It is widely credited as helping foster empathy for the plight of Jewish refugees and garnering support for the State of Israel. However, it is also highly controversial and critics have accused it of containing propaganda, historical inaccuracies, and racist portrayals of Arabs.