THE HAJ

We Arabs are the worst. . . ." That is the theme of this crude propaganda-novel by the author of Exodus, which traces the Palestinian-refugee problem up through 1956—blaming 100 percent of it on the British and the Arabs (Arab greed, decadence, laziness, backwardness, bestiality, etc.), putting the case into the mouths of a few relatively "good" Arabs. The title character is Ibrahim, who becomes the young chieftain of the Palestinian village Tabah in 1922. He feels affection for Gideon Asch, the noble Haganah leader who watches over the nearby kibbutz. ("He respected a fairness in Gideon that he was not able to practice himself.") But, culture-bound and constantly threatened by rival Arab leaders, Ibrahim must reject Gideon's offers of aid and friendship. Meanwhile, Ibrahim's youngest son Ishmael—the off-and-on narrator—is growing up during WW II, only half-brainwashed into Koran-based hatred. ("Why can't Islam share the world with other people?") Then, in 1947, comes the Israeli/Arab warfare: Ben-Gurion vows that "under no circumstances will we force out a single Arab"; for tactical, power-ploy reasons, however, the Arabs force the Palestinian villagers to evacuate—while the wealthy "Palestinian Arab leadership simply abandoned its country in a self-serving manner uncaring of the balance of the population." The Arabs spread false rumors of Jewish atrocities to cause mass flight; the women of Ibrahim's family are raped by rival Arab henchmen. And though the family survives, thanks to Gideon and a "very sympathetic" Irgun officer, their arrival in Arab territory on the West Bank is greeted by Arab disdain, neglect, cruelty. ("The Jews have never done to me and my people what has happened. . . at the hands of our own brothers.") They live in a cave, in refugee camps; "we rotted and complained. . . we became overpowered with self-pity." Israel secretly invites the repatriation of 100,000 Arabs—but the Palestinians become the passive, lazy pawns of ambitious Jordanians, Iraqis, and Egyptians: Ibrahim and other moderates are smeared or assassinated; Ibrahim's older son is murdered by Jordan, then turned into a supposed victim of the Zionists, "the first Palestinian martyr." All UN attempts at bettering the refugee situation are ruined by "tribal avarice." And finally, "no longer able to combat or cope with the evils of our society," Ibrahim slips back into primitivism—hating Israel, killing his daughter for abandoning traditional ways—while young Ishmael ends up in despair, knowing that his "culture" is the villain. . . and that "the Arabs alone have the resources to dissolve their refugee problem, if they wanted to." Are there elements of truth in Uris' anti-Arab version of Palestinian history? Unquestionably. Here, however, presented in a blurred fact/fiction format, his arguments come across as grossly biased, untrustworthy, drenched in bigotry. Gratuitous scenes of Arab sex-and-violence are inserted to remind us that this is a "savage people"; generalizations about the Arab "nature" abound. (Similar remarks about blacks or Jews would probably be considered unpublishable.) Furthermore, simply as storytelling, this is a sad comedown for veteran Uris: the narration is rudimentary, often clumsy; the dialogue is amateurish, riddled with anachronisms; flat little history-lessons are thrown in haphazardly; and there's no real characterization—just illustrations of the defects in Arab culture. In sum: a dreary, ugly lecture/ novel—sure to attract an audience, but likely to embarrass all but the most unthinking Jewish readers.

Pub Date: April 20, 1984

ISBN: 0553248642

Page Count: 548

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: Oct. 6, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 1984

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

With humor and insight, Straub creates a family worth rooting for.

ALL ADULTS HERE

When Astrid Strick witnesses a school bus run over a longtime acquaintance of hers—Barbara Baker, a woman she doesn't like very much—it's only the beginning of the shake-ups to come in her life and the lives of those she loves.

Astrid has been tootling along contentedly in the Hudson Valley town of Clapham, New York, a 68-year-old widow with three grown children. After many years of singlehood since her husband died, she's been quietly seeing Birdie Gonzalez, her hairdresser, for the past two years, and after Barbara's death she determines to tell her children about the relationship: "There was no time to waste, not in this life. There were always more school buses." Elliot, her oldest, who's in real estate, lives in Clapham with his wife, Wendy, who's Chinese American, and their twins toddlers, Aidan and Zachary, who are "such hellions that only a fool would willingly ask for more." Astrid's daughter, Porter, owns a nearby farm producing artisanal goat cheese and has just gotten pregnant through a sperm bank while having an affair with her married high school boyfriend. Nicky, the youngest Strick, is disconcertingly famous for having appeared in an era-defining movie when he was younger and now lives in Brooklyn with his French wife, Juliette, and their daughter, Cecelia, who's being shipped up to live with Astrid for a while after her friend got mixed up with a pedophile she met online. As always, Straub (Modern Lovers, 2016, etc.) draws her characters warmly, making them appealing in their self-centeredness and generosity, their insecurity and hope. The cast is realistically diverse, though in most ways it's fairly superficial; the fact that Birdie is Latina or Porter's obstetrician is African American doesn't have much impact on the story or their characters. Cecelia's new friend, August, wants to make the transition to Robin; that storyline gets more attention, with the two middle schoolers supporting each other through challenging times. The Stricks worry about work, money, sex, and gossip; Straub has a sharp eye for her characters' foibles and the details of their liberal, upper-middle-class milieu.

With humor and insight, Straub creates a family worth rooting for.

Pub Date: May 5, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-59463-469-7

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: Feb. 10, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2020

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

A daring concept not so daringly developed.

THE BOOK OF LONGINGS

In Kidd’s (The Invention of Wings, 2014, etc.) feminist take on the New Testament, Jesus has a wife whose fondest longing is to write.

Ana is the daughter of Matthias, head scribe to Herod Antipas, tetrarch of Galilee. She demonstrates an exceptional aptitude for writing, and Matthias, for a time, indulges her with reed pens, papyri, and other 16 C.E. office supplies. Her mother disapproves, but her aunt, Yaltha, mentors Ana in the ways of the enlightened women of Alexandria, from whence Yaltha, suspected of murdering her brutal husband, was exiled years before. Yaltha was also forced to give up her daughter, Chaya, for adoption. As Ana reaches puberty, parental tolerance of her nonconformity wanes, outweighed by the imperative to marry her off. Her adopted brother, Judas—yes, that Judas—is soon disowned for his nonconformity—plotting against Antipas. On the very day Ana, age 14, meets her prospective betrothed, the repellent Nathanial, in the town market, she also encounters Jesus, a young tradesman, to whom she’s instantly drawn. Their connection deepens after she encounters Jesus in the cave where she is concealing her writings about oppressed women. When Nathanial dies after his betrothal to Ana but before their marriage, Ana is shunned for insufficiently mourning him—and after refusing to become Antipas’ concubine, she is about to be stoned until Jesus defuses the situation with that famous admonition. She marries Jesus and moves into his widowed mother’s humble compound in Nazareth, accompanied by Yaltha. There, poverty, not sexism, prohibits her from continuing her writing—office supplies are expensive. Kidd skirts the issue of miracles, portraying Jesus as a fully human and, for the period, accepting husband—after a stillbirth, he condones Ana’s practice of herbal birth control. A structural problem is posed when Jesus’ active ministry begins—what will Ana’s role be? Problem avoided when, notified by Judas that Antipas is seeking her arrest, she and Yaltha journey to Alexandria in search of Chaya. In addition to depriving her of the opportunity to write the first and only contemporaneous gospel, removing Ana from the main action destroys the novel’s momentum.

A daring concept not so daringly developed.

Pub Date: April 21, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-525-42976-0

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: Jan. 27, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2020

Did you like this book?

more