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

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Miller makes Homer pertinent to women facing 21st-century monsters.

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CIRCE

A retelling of ancient Greek lore gives exhilarating voice to a witch.

“Monsters are a boon for gods. Imagine all the prayers.” So says Circe, a sly, petulant, and finally commanding voice that narrates the entirety of Miller’s dazzling second novel. The writer returns to Homer, the wellspring that led her to an Orange Prize for The Song of Achilles (2012). This time, she dips into The Odyssey for the legend of Circe, a nymph who turns Odysseus’ crew of men into pigs. The novel, with its distinctive feminist tang, starts with the sentence: “When I was born, the name for what I was did not exist.” Readers will relish following the puzzle of this unpromising daughter of the sun god Helios and his wife, Perse, who had negligible use for their child. It takes banishment to the island Aeaea for Circe to sense her calling as a sorceress: “I will not be like a bird bred in a cage, I thought, too dull to fly even when the door stands open. I stepped into those woods and my life began.” This lonely, scorned figure learns herbs and potions, surrounds herself with lions, and, in a heart-stopping chapter, outwits the monster Scylla to propel Daedalus and his boat to safety. She makes lovers of Hermes and then two mortal men. She midwifes the birth of the Minotaur on Crete and performs her own C-section. And as she grows in power, she muses that “not even Odysseus could talk his way past [her] witchcraft. He had talked his way past the witch instead.” Circe’s fascination with mortals becomes the book’s marrow and delivers its thrilling ending. All the while, the supernatural sits intriguingly alongside “the tonic of ordinary things.” A few passages coil toward melodrama, and one inelegant line after a rape seems jarringly modern, but the spell holds fast. Expect Miller’s readership to mushroom like one of Circe’s spells.

Miller makes Homer pertinent to women facing 21st-century monsters.

Pub Date: April 10, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-316-55634-7

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Jan. 23, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2018

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THE SECRET HISTORY

The Brat Pack meets The Bacchae in this precious, way-too-long, and utterly unsuspenseful town-and-gown murder tale. A bunch of ever-so-mandarin college kids in a small Vermont school are the eager epigones of an aloof classics professor, and in their exclusivity and snobbishness and eagerness to please their teacher, they are moved to try to enact Dionysian frenzies in the woods. During the only one that actually comes off, a local farmer happens upon them—and they kill him. But the death isn't ruled a murder—and might never have been if one of the gang—a cadging sybarite named Bunny Corcoran—hadn't shown signs of cracking under the secret's weight. And so he too is dispatched. The narrator, a blank-slate Californian named Richard Pepen chronicles the coverup. But if you're thinking remorse-drama, conscience masque, or even semi-trashy who'll-break-first? page-turner, forget it: This is a straight gee-whiz, first-to-have-ever-noticed college novel—"Hampden College, as a body, was always strangely prone to hysteria. Whether from isolation, malice, or simple boredom, people there were far more credulous and excitable than educated people are generally thought to be, and this hermetic, overheated atmosphere made it a thriving black petri dish of melodrama and distortion." First-novelist Tartt goes muzzy when she has to describe human confrontations (the murder, or sex, or even the ping-ponging of fear), and is much more comfortable in transcribing aimless dorm-room paranoia or the TV shows that the malefactors anesthetize themselves with as fate ticks down. By telegraphing the murders, Tartt wants us to be continually horrified at these kids—while inviting us to semi-enjoy their manneristic fetishes and refined tastes. This ersatz-Fitzgerald mix of moralizing and mirror-looking (Jay McInerney shook and poured the shaker first) is very 80's—and in Tartt's strenuous version already seems dated, formulaic. Les Nerds du Mal—and about as deep (if not nearly as involving) as a TV movie.

Pub Date: Sept. 16, 1992

ISBN: 1400031702

Page Count: 592

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 1992

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