The Haj by Leon Uris

Once again Bookbub steps into my life and makes it just a little bit better. I have read several Leon Uris books over the years: QBVII, Trinity, Exodus. What I most enjoy about his novels is the depth of research he undertook. These are historical fiction but the history is so well researched that it really enhances the story.

The Haj is no exception. It is an examination of end of the British Empire’s days in Palestine, the establishment of an Israeli state and the role of the Muslim world in trying to ensure that many nations secured space or a piece of the pie in the Holy Land.

If you ever wondered about the more modern day roots of the Palestinian conflict, this book is an excellent fictional primer. It delivers the background and explains all the conflicting interests at work.

Each country in the Middle East has strong tribal affiliations that transcend geopolitical interests, Islamism , nationality or ethnicity. Many countries look down upon the Palestinians even as they claim to make war in the Palestinian interest. The real interest is always the same – money.

It also shows in fictional form that personal relationships so often, are more important and deep than national conflicts or ethnic conflicts. In the end, we have far more in common than we don’t but we cannot overcome our base nature.

The story revolves around Ishmael, a Palestinian boy who views the conflict and informs his father’s decision making process as he (the father) is the Haj of a large village in Palestine. As such, he is responsible for all the people there and when trouble strikes, he must take his whole village and resettle them as refugees in Jordan.

It shows the complications of friendships between Palestinians and Israeli’s. It undertakes the discussion of women’s roles in a complex Bedouin society as well as under a fundamental Muslim household. It attempts to explain the treatment of refugees during that period as they attempt to resettle in Beirut, Jordan, The West Bank and Egypt.

It also attempts to explain the role of the freedom fighters and young people who become terrorists and martyrs because there is virtually no other hope for them. Their life choices are limited by birth order, by education, by skill, by village position. It definitely helped me understand where the world is today while having the benefit of reading a well written story.

If a book club is looking for a combination of fiction and history, I suggest they look into any of Leon Uris’ historical fiction books. They are lengthy but engrossing and there is enough discussion for two book club sessions. Five stars.

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