I’m over 70 now. I don’t know how many 800-page novels I have left.
—LEON URIS, 1996
HIS TRIP TO EASTERN EUROPE rekindled Uris’s writerly identity and sense of self-importance. Ambassadors, ministers, fans, and the press had turned out to greet him. Given the personal difficulties he was facing at home, it was reassuring for his image and ego to receive the attention he found in Finland, the USSR, Poland, and Hungary. He was seen throughout Eastern Europe as a writer of importance who had revived the Jewish identities of hundreds of thousands. His confidence returned, and he identified himself as a Jewish Hemingway. Shortly after he returned, he told an interviewer: “I am mainly a man’s writer. I write about war, violence, sex … the type of things that men like to read about.”1 He drove the point home: “None of my books can be called a woman’s book. I do think that my female characters are getting Better. In the beginning, women weren’t a strong part of my writing.” In Mitla Pass, the character of Ben-Gurion makes this into a joke, telling his adviser Jacob Herzog that “we are entitled to a poor man’s Hemingway” when permitting the writer Gideon Zadok to join the Lion Battalion: “God knows he doesn’t write like Hemingway, but I hear he drinks as well” (MP, 9).
Uris returned to New York at the beginning of November 1989 rejuvenated and ready to write, although he needed cash. He decided to try the lecture circuit, giving talks about his Soviet adventures for Jewish organizations in Mexico, Canada, and the United States. He was eager to restart his writing, although his first effort was as unexpected as it was unplanned: a children’s story, the first he had attempted.
The story is set on Shelter Island, where Uris had gradually been spending more and more time. He rented a house owned by Ralph Kast on North Ferry Road for $25,000 a year, but soon bought it. The small, modern, three-bedroom home had a study for Uris upstairs in the back, facing Chase Creek. A small dock led