- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 24, 2003

NEW YORK (AP) — Author Leon Uris, an immigrant’s determined son who made it big with the best-selling “Exodus” and other hugely popular novels, has died. He was 78.

Mr. Uris died Saturday of congestive heart failure at his home on New York’s Shelter Island, HarperCollins, his publisher, said yesterday.

Published in 1958, the 600-page “Exodus” was a sensation as millions read Mr. Uris’ detailed, heroic narrative of European Jewry from the turn of the century to the establishment of the state of Israel in 1948. The novel was translated into dozens of languages and even distributed secretly in communist countries.

“‘Exodus’ has been the Bible of the Jewish dissident movement in Russia,” Mr. Uris told the Associated Press in a 1988 interview. “It’s referred to as ‘The Book.’”

Some Israelis, however, thought Mr. Uris had been too kind to them. Israeli historian and author Tom Segev said that Mr. Uris drew a picture of Israel and Zionism that was glorified beyond reality, and that “it was more harmful than helpful.”

Mr. Segev, whose books include “One Palestine, Complete,” said Mr. Uris “turned Zionist history into a myth that was more Zionist than the Zionists themselves thought.”

Energetic and unafraid, Mr. Uris was as much an adventurer as a writer, traveling tirelessly and sometimes risking his life. In researching “Exodus,” he logged thousands of miles and ended up reporting on the 1956 conflict in the Middle East.

Mr. Uris also fought many battles of his own, feuding with directors Otto Preminger and Alfred Hitchcock and contesting lawsuits for “Exodus” and the thriller “Topaz.”

“I used to think of myself as a very sad little Jewish boy, isolated in a Southern town, undersized, asthmatic,” Mr. Uris told the AP.

His latest work, titled “O’Hara’s Choice,” was set for release in October, said Jill Uris, his ex-wife, but illness had prevented him from making plans for a promotional tour. She added that the two had remained friends after their 1989 divorce.

The book is about the history of the Marine Corps and its struggle to expand after the Civil War, Herschel Blumberg, Mr. Uris’ cousin, said yesterday. He noted that Mr. Uris served as a Marine in World War II and wrote his first novel, “Battle Cry,” about the Marines.

“He knew this was going to be his last book, so he wanted to wrap it up and make it full circle,” Mr. Blumberg said. “It’s a very interesting story.”

Mr. Uris’ most personal novel, “Mitla Pass,” came out in 1988 and closely follows the lives of the author and his family. The book begins in Israel in 1956 during the time of the Suez Canal crisis and centers on the experiences of Gideon Zadok, a writer covering the confrontation.

The novel then traces the protagonist’s ancestry to the 1880s, allowing various relatives to tell their stories.

“I was looking for a legacy to leave my new family and my grandchildren,” Mr. Uris told the AP. The thrice-married author had five children and two grandchildren.

“I wanted to leave them with a story of what their old man did and let them know he was not infallible. … You spend the second half of your life getting over your first half,” he said.

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