I’m no Solzhenitsyn … but I’ll rest on my titles. I’ve written
two novels—Exodus and Trinity—that have had some
world impact. Things could be worse.
—LEON URIS, WASHINGTON POST, 2 MAY 1978
URIS’S SELF-ASSESSMENT was not entirely wrong, acknowledging his successes while admitting his shortcomings. By the time this article appeared, Trinity had already sold more than 1.6 million copies. He could afford to both criticize and praise himself. And Trinity was an important book because it “destroyed an essential myth: that I am a Jewish writer.”1 Implicitly, he meant that he was also an Irish, even a world, writer.
Uris’s reputation, however, was still ambiguous and partly undermined by his divorce from his literary contemporaries. A long interview in Writer’s Digest summarized his attitude, expressed through disdain for writers like Norman Mailer: “He’s not a novelist at all. I think he’s a public masturbator.”2 On the Nobel Prize: “If Norman Mailer wins it, I’ll probably kill myself. I mean, I don’t expect to win it because I am too popular.” But he admired some American writers, notably Tennessee Williams, James Michener, and John Hersey. Steinbeck was also a hero. He summarized his own work by declaring, “My basic material deals with injustice in this world and the striving for that thing we call freedom.”
Uris’s pseudoclaim to being Irish was confirmed in February 1978 when he received the John F. Kennedy Medal, awarded by the Irish American Society of New York. It was a gala evening at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in New York, and the key Doubleday people were invited: Ken McCormick, Sam Vaughan, John Sargent, and Joan Ward, Ken McCormick’s assistant. Later that year, Uris received the gold medal of the Eire Society of Boston.
Leading up to this event, however, was a period of distraction and confusion. He was unsure of his next book, switching topics from Israel to South Africa, showing again that travel, research, and politically charged cultures were what he needed to stimulate his creativity. But first came sales. At the end of 1976, he had told Ken McCormick that he did not want to deal with the Literary Guild