Tuesday, January 09, 2007

"The Haj" - Leon Uris

After hearing of my interest in the Middle East, a coworker recommended I read the book "The Haj" by Leon Uris. The novel is a dense, dark book spanning almost 600 pages. This is the first novel I have not been able to breeze through for as long as I can remember, which is not a bad thing because I am fascinated by the complexity and depth of the characters, issues, and themes. "The Haj" is fiction, however, Mr. Uris spent years researching the topics and history of the people, the land, religion, politics, and culture. The story he weaves encompasses the nefarious and complicated relationship primarily between the Arabs and Jews, yet he also involves the interactions between the Arabs and other Arabs, the Christians, and the Bedouin Tribes. The author graciously and accurately describes the perplexing relationships of the people and the times. He explores how the World Wars affected the Middle East, especially Palestine. The influence of the French, British, and Germans during those times. Also, He examines the traditions of each society and how religion influences them by highlighting the differences in development of each, especially the Jewish settlements and the Arab villages. The roles of women in each society are also scrutinized throughout the story.

The amount of information one absorbs from reading the paragraphs from these pages is overwhelming, somewhat disturbing, yet paradoxically enlightening. Despite the daunting task of reading such an intense work, the reader is not flummoxed in any way. The characters clearly convey the societal happenings. Although I am only one-fifth into the book, I'm deeply moved by the powerful portrayal of the woman's role in the Arab Muslim world. The reader is left with the impression that women are merely present for their fecundity, cooking, and sex. Their only role is to serve men. It's astounding and quite disturbing. Uris also delves into the role of violence within Arab nations with the majority of which against eachother instead of the "outsiders". Through the characters, he analyzes how their religion keeps them repressed and economically challenged compared to how the collective, open and progressive ideals of the Jewish world provided the opposite results of prosperity and growth. From swamps, they build kibbutzim that turned the driest desert sand into vegetation. It truly is amazing. So far, the book is exasperating, yet intriguing. I am very excited to finish the rest. For those interested in the Middle East, Religion, the history of Palestine and the surrounding areas, as well as families surviving in that region during WWI and WWII, I highly recommend reading "The Haj". It's not for the faint of heart, but it provides excellent insight into a pugnacious and muddled world by which many westerners are perplexed.

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