Leon Uris’s Trinity is a huge doorstop of a novel about the socioeconomic and political history of Ireland from the early nineteenth century into World War I.
Through those years, Uris focuses on three families with different loyalties.
A Catholic family named Larkins scratch a bare subsistence from hillside farms in Ballyutogue.
The Hubble family headed by the Earls of Foyle, English aristocrats, owe their position and wealth to England.
The MacLeods, a Belfast shipbuilding family, is committed to the Scottish-Presbyterian Protestantism and the British Crown that established them in Ulster for reasons of state.
Uris weaves the three families together through a single character, Conor Larkin, age 12 as the story opens and 43 when he dies in 1916 fighting for his vision of an independent Ireland.
Reading Trinity, I realized that what little I know of Irish history has come primarily through the filter of English novelists. It had never registered with me that the position of Ireland in nineteenth century (and beyond) was like that of America in the eighteenth century: a colony.
Uris wraps his fictional characters in cloaks of history and as he unwraps the historical figures from them, simultaneously providing good entertainment with a substantial history lesson.
Trinity by Leon Uris
Doubleday, 1976. 751 p.
1976 bestseller #1. My grade: A
Psychology and politics, or more accurately the psychology of people in political conflicts, are the topics of three of my favorites of the 1964 bestsellers: Armageddon by Leon Uris, The Man by Irving Wallace, and The Martyred by Richard E. Kim.
Oddly enough, the central characters of each of these novels are not themselves memorable.
Armageddon is a fictional account of the Berlin airlift. The effort’s mastermind controls the action from off stage. What readers remember is the incredible ingenuity and endurance of the mass of unnamed men and women who made the airlift succeed.
The Man is a fictional account of a run-of-the-mill senator shocked into rising to the occasion when, through no effort or desire of his own, he becomes America’s first black President. Douglass Dilman’s very ordinariness makes the story memorable and him forgettable: I can picture scenes from the novel vividly, but had to go back to look up the title character’s name.
The Martyred also turns around a character whose personality is less memorable than those of the less pivotal characters: South Korean Army Capt. Lee.
Lee puts his brain power into discovering what happened to a group of South Korean pastors when they were captured by the Communists. The intellectually understandable facts provide no explanation. The pastors’ behaviors arose from fear, love, and faith rather than from facts. Thus their behavior is comprehensible only through sympathy and insight.
If you want a real brain workout, read and compare these three novels.
That will keep you off the streets until the snow melts in Maine.
Armageddon is a sprawling novel set as World War II ends and the Soviets move to turn Europe into Communist satellites.
The themes Leon Uris raises are as familiar as today’s news, but easier to examine with a degree of objectivity in a 75-year-old setting.
War-weary Americans want to pull out of Germany and let the Germans fend for themselves. General A. J. Hansen begs American politicians to plan for a post-war political settlement. He sees withdrawal would give rise to a more serious threat than Hitler’s Reich.
Hansen assembles a team of experts lead in everything from electrical generation to municipal government to design a plan for governing Germany after the war. Hansen sends them to a Nazi stronghold where they deploy and refine their plan.
Then Hansen redirects them to Berlin to begin guiding the city into rebuilding on democratic principles before the Russians can build Berlin into a Communist satellite.
When the Russians block all land routes into the city, leaving Berliners to face starvation in the frigid winter, Hansen fights against Congressional and military leaders to win presidential approval to attempt to supply the city by air.
Although Hansen is behind most of the novel’s action, he’s rarely seen in the novel. Uris reserves the role of the hero for the team of men who put their individual expertise at the service of America. Uris lists yards of facts about the Berlin airlift, emphasizing the monumental achievement and personal self-effacement of the men who made it happen.
It takes a rare kind of man to serve his country without the benefit of pyrotechnics or reward and a different kind of courage to keep your mouth shut and go on working and believing when you are positive those around you are wrong. We don’t have enough men of this kind of dedication.
by Leon Uris
1964 bestseller #4
My grade: B+
Mila 18 is a fictional account of the Jewish uprising against the Nazis in the Warsaw Ghetto in 1943.
Leon Uris weaves together the stories of Jews inside the Ghetto with stories both of their friends and their enemies outside.
The Jews are deeply divided over how to respond to the Nazi threat. Many hope it will go away if ignored. Some want to appease. Some want to fight.
As the Nazis systematically depopulate the Ghetto, a core of those ready to fight forms in secret basement rooms beneath Mila 18.
Led by Andrei Androfski, Jews fight unexpectedly and valiantly. Only a few escape, getting out through the sewers, but among them is a gentile journalist who knows where the Jews buried documents detailing their ghetto experience.
If the plot of Mila 18 sounds vaguely familiar, it’s because John Hersey used the same historical outline for his 1950 bestseller The Wall.
Uris’s addition of non-Jewish characters like the Nazi Horst von Epp and Polish collaborator Franz Koenig adds to readers’ understanding of events, particularly the ethnic rivalries that gave the Nazis a foothold, but weakens the novel’s focus.
If you can read only one novel about the Warsaw uprising, choose The Wall instead.
Mila 18 By Leon Uris
1961 bestseller # 4
My Grade: B +
Exodus is an unsatisfactory novel but an intriguing introduction to the history of present day Middle East conflicts.
The story is about an American nurse working among refugee children in the Middle East after World War II.
Kitty is attracted to Ari Ben Canaan, a handsome Jewish leader, but Ari seems cold and unfeeling, capable of no emotion but loyalty to his country. Is this man capable of love?
On that story line, more fragile than an Harlequin Romance, Leon Uris hangs a short history of Israel.
Although Uris outlines the story of Jewish persecutions around the world, his main emphasis is on the refusal of the international community to allow refugees from Nazi concentration camps to come to Israel in the ’40s and ’50s. He says the British were pro-Arab because they wanted Mideast oil. They thought the divided Arabs would be easier to control than united Jews.
Although the Arab-Israeli conflict is still headline news, despite the passage of 50 years, today’s Americans have forgotten the events surrounding the birth of the state of Israel.
Although Exodus doesn’t have much to recommend it as a novel, it is an enjoyable introduction to Biblical and modern Israeli history.
In case you wondered, Kitty finds Ari is capable of love.
by Leon Uris
1959 bestseller #1
My grade B