Thursday, June 26, 2014

Jewish Novels, Berlin Airlift, Leon Uris' "Armageddon-A Novel of Berlin" and Preserving Our Memory

“To me, a writer is one of the most important soldiers in the fight for survival of the human race. He must stay at his post in the thick of fire to serve the cause of mankind.” 
― Leon Uris

Dr. Suzanne Gossett was a great teacher in the English Department of Loyola University when I was an undergraduates in the early 1970's   I had a course in the Jewish American novel and we read Saul Bellow, Bernard Malamud, Phillip Roth and Henry Roth's Call It Sleep.  I loved Malamud, liked Bellow, detested Phillip Roth and found myself conflicted about the other Roth.  Call it Sleep took a kid by the name of David Schearl from the age of six into early adolescence - the tale is very much like James Joyce's early pages of Portrait of the Artist as Young Man in its imagism and sexual iconography - only in Yiddish, as opposed to Jackeen Dublinese.

The book is a compendium of fear boiling in a little guy.  He gets bullied by family, Reb Yidall his Hebrew instructor, older kids and, of course, a Catholic thug named Leo who gives David a rosary and rapes his little sister.

I presented my conflicts to Dr. Gossett, the novel is powerful and beautifully written, but seems dangerous.  David is a victim for scores of pages and is only freed somehow - Deus Ex Machina -by a step-father who relents from killing the boy and a mother who finally offers him some level of psychological comfort. Call It Sleep is an angst-addict's dope.  I countered Henry Roth with Leon Uris was not part of canon of Jewish novelists in the Loyola offering.

Leon Uris had not time for Freudian, Jungian, or Hegelian deconstructions and dithering.  Jews faced the existential reality of extinction.  Now, that is a problem.

Uris wrote about the common humanity that just might save not only Jews but stupid and self-absorbed planet full of carbon footprints.

Dr. Gossett assured me that, while Leon Uris sold millions books, wrote the screenplay to movies like Gunfight at OK Corral and others,  he was no Saul Bellow.  However, . . ." I could write a paper."

I did - got a B- and noted from my mentress " B'nai B'rith would love your point of view on the self-loathing Jew."   I used Armageddon and Exodus to counter Henry Roth.  Thin gruel. Armageddon and Exodus remain truly great reads. Exodus chronicles the birth of Israel in the wake of Holocaust and Armageddon the Berlin Airlift - contemporary to Israel's geopolitical obstetric agonistes.

This month marks the Anniversary of Berlin Airlift in 1948.  I believe that this event happened to be as much of an existential threat to mankind. The USSR and USA et al were at daggers drawn with blood lusts still up from the Second World War.  Gen. George Marshall and the hundreds of anonymous pilots and crews who flew food and fuel into the Soviet blockaded city of Berlin made Stalin blink.

Leon Uris gives humanity fair warning "It Can Happen Again"  and when it does everyone, not just the Jews, are fair game.

We, all of us, do not have  the time, the temperament, the memory or the luxury to self-loathe.

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