The Peripatetic Reviewer

by Edward Weeks

by Leonard Slater
Simon and Schuster, $6.95

After the sporadic fighting in the Middle East which culminated in the Ten Days offensive of june, 1949, Israel’s war of independence, the world sat back in surprise that a nation of 700,000 immigrants and refugees could have held off and so swiftly conquered the Arabs. Where did the Jews find the discipline, the arms, and the air power to conquer the enemy that so greatly outnumbered them? It was a mystery spiced by admiration, for this was a classic example of the underdog, as resourceful as he was desperate. The discipline was developed in Palestine, underground; the arms without which the Jews’ resistance could have been broken were procured by Americans in an audacious race against time. Time, perseverance, and luck all played a part in the achievement now disclosed by Leonard Slater in his suspenseful book The Pledge.
The quest begins on July 1, 1945, a sweltering day in New York City, with a meeting of nineteen Jews in a penthouse on Fifty-seventh Street. The two principals were Rudolf G. Sonneborn, the host, a graduate of Johns Hopkins and a naval aviator in World War I, who was now directing his family’s multimilliondollar corporation, and David Ben Gurion, head of the Jewish settlers in Palestine. Ben Gurion had just flown in from Europe; he spoke of the riots in the DP camps, where the survivors were petitioning the Big Three to support the establishment of a Jewish state, and then, coming to the heart of the trouble, he predicted that “in two or three years,” the British would give up their mandate and that when they did the Arabs had every intention of filling the vacuum and of dominating Palestine.
Ben Gurion proposed to get the
Jewish survivors out of the DP camps and bring them to their homeland, where they could be trained by the veterans who had served with the Allies, and he appealed to the seventeen wealthy Jews before him to form an American branch of Haganah and to provide the arms with which the Jews could defend themselves when the British left.
The Sonneborn Institute, as the network which reached as far as Hawaii came to be known, had several things going for it: the War Assets Administration was divesting itself of billions of dollars’ worth of surplus hardware at one tenth to one twentieth of the cost, and the country was alive with veterans, Jew and gentile, willing to throw up civilian job to help a people, five to six million of whom had been exterminated by Hitler’s gang. Americans are a spontaneous breed, and once the recruits knew what was impending, their sympathies were aroused. Suave, wealthy, and knowledgeable, the chief donors in the Institute could raise a million a week or as much more as the emergency demanded.
But the obstacles were formidable. President Truman and the professionals in the State Department, while approving in principle a Jewish state, were insistent on an arms embargo, and the FBI was on the prowl to stop the illegal sale of arms. So everything the Institute bought had to be hidden in secret warehouses and shipped out in disguise. It is the hunt for the indispensables which builds the suspense: the crazy, funny, dangerous business of acquiring an arsenal underground and of delivering it—the little pieces first, then the guns, then the tools and heavy equipment—to Tel Aviv under the nose of tire British, who were by now being sniped at by both sides and who had imposed a death penalty on anyone known to possess a weapon.
The hunt and the bizarre characters who carried it out are what give this book its rakish, daring, cockeyed character. Among the leading characters were Carl Ekdahl, the gun designer, who farmed out his light machine gun among several tool shops in Toronto; Elie Schalit, the twenty-two-year-old husky blond, Israel-born, whose job was to pack and ship the TNT and the hardware under deceptive labels; Yehuda Arazi, the gray-haired, amorous secret agent, once the chief investigator of Communist activities j in Jerusalem, who knew where the secret caches of arms had been hidden in Europe and who was notv touring the United States looking for tall women with full bosoms, and buying airplanes and even a baby flattop on the side; and Adolph Schwimmer, the moving spirit in Service Airways, which was to buy three Constellations (placing them under Panama registration) and 10 C-46’s, to purchase P-gi’s in Mexico and German Messerschmitts in Czechoslovakia. (In all some five hundred airmen, idealists, and adventurers, Jew and gentile, would go out to Palestine from Canada and the United States to form half of the Israeli Air Force). When the British moved out in mid-May, 1948, and the Arab Legion and guerrillas moved in, the Israelis were ready.
When a crate broke down and tins of TNT spilled out of what had been stenciled “Used Industrial Machinery,” there was a setback and a subsequent truce with the longshoremen. When the FBI became too nosy about the airplanes, they were flown to Panama and to Italy. When warehouses were suspected, the contents were trucked out overnight by an army of volunteers. When tire money was needed, it was found. This is a story of ingenuity and dedication against almost impossible odds, a story of such close timing that the three B-17’s, an eleventh-hour acquisition, flew in to drop their bombs just as the tide was finally turning against the Egyptians.
by Erich Segal
Harper & Row, $4.95
Love Story is the most successful of the campus novels this spring, and there is nothing obstreperous about it, no causes, demonstrations, or apologies for the black. It is simply a love affair leading to the marriage in adversity ol a Harvard senior, Oliver Barrett IV, and Jennifer Cavilleri, a Radcliffe music major, a harpist, and a Catholic, who had set her sights on studying under Nadia Boulanger in Paris until she fell in love. Oliver is a Harvard jock, an All-Ivy wing on the hockey team, a scrapper, and a clubman with plenty of money behind him. Jenny calls him “preppie,” because of his obvious background; what he does not show her in the beginning is his hostility toward his father, a mixture of pride, rivalry, and resentment against the elders wish to dominate. Phil, Jenny’s father, a baker in Cranston, Rhode Island, and a widower, is as proud as his neighbors are of Jenny, and once he sees Oliver is in earnest and Jenny happy, he has no misgivings. These are the lour who control the story, and when Oliver tells his father that he intends to marry before he goes to law school, the old man cuts him off without a penny. The kids both take jobs that first summer after their wedding, and she continues to support him until he has his degree and has landed a job in New York with a salary big enough lor a little enjoyment. Meantime, the feud with his family continues.
What is fetching about Love Story is Jenny’s teasing of her jock. She is hard to win and delightfully snotty (most of their life together is framed in dialogue, crisp and impudent: it was writtten first for the film which in this case preceded the book). The presumptuous part is the estrangement between father and son. There have been proper Bostonians as stiff-necked as Oliver Barrett III. but I doubt it they ate as adamant today. The touching part is the intimacy of the lovers, and this would have been poignant bad it been developed with the depth of Elvira Madigan. 1 lie fortuitous part is what happens to jenny. Yes, I know it could happen to any person as young as that, but still . . .
by Sylvia Ashton-Warner
Knopf, S5.95
Sylvia Ashton-Warner is a New Zealander who in her novels uses a short wavelength of perception, vignettes of subtle impressions, and interences through which, as in a succession of telegrams, the protagonist signals to the reader her feelings whether superficial or in depth.
The style is well suited to her new story, Three, which is placed in London in a spacious, shabby flat. Julian, its owner, a senior lecturer at a London university, is in hospital and on the danger list as the story opens, and to his bedside come his mother, a widow and the narrator of the tale; his brother Bernard, from New Zealand; and his French wife, Angelique, who dies in from her family home in Bombay, where she has been living in separation. Julian squeaks through, and in his convalescence the three who give the story its title return to his apartment, which by now has degenerated into squalor: his mother, who has systematically scrubbed out the place, the invalid, and Angelique, his estranged wife, who with her wealthy Continental upbringing sleeps late and dines late and abominates the housework.
The story is the story of their daily involvement as Julian regains his health, his craving for independence, and his knife-sharp outbursts. The mother—“Old Severe Face,” as site calls herself—is quite aware of being a necessity and an intrusion. She writes, “I scan my private newspaper for proof: Signs, Slips, Signals and Symptoms, what I call the Four S’s. Seeking some confirmation that they really want me.”There are times when she is and times when she isn’t: the latter increase as Julian’s virility is restored, and at the other end of the generation gap is Angelique, who has the beauty to captivate and the suavity to calm the older woman when site is most troubled, although whether she can continue to live in harmony with her husband is a question. The neurasthenic Julian, one gathers, has always been spoiled, and as an invalid he is so demanding that one could kick him.
There is a fourth, an observer of this comedy, in the person of Carlos, a professional actor with many postures but not enough talent for a good part; one forgets him in watching the embroilment oF the three.
by Ellen B. Ballou
Houghton Mifflin, $12.50
In these days when so many oldline publishers have surrendered their character to become part of a conglomerate empire, it is heartening to read of one which has maintained its integrity and prospered on its own. Houghton Mifflin is THE publishing firm I have in mind, and in The Building of the House Ellen B. Ballou has told of the practical, cautious Yankee genius which, beginning in the midnineteenth century, built it up to be one of the most outstanding imprints in America. For those interested in the history of publishing and the business of authorship, this book is indispensable and in many passages engrossing.
Henry Oscar Houghton is Mrs. Ballou’s hero: He came down from Vermont, and on borrowed money and with superb craft He rose to be the head of the Riverside Press and the master printer of his time, a believer in wide margins and good type, with a contempt for Victorian curlicues.
In 1853 he began to acquire the plates of those clients whose books he had been printing and who bad gone bankrupt in the Panic, and from these plates came his own list of staple books. He manufactured thousands of tons of Webster’s Unabridged Dictionary for the Merriam Company of Springfield, and as his capital increased he developed lbs publishing philosophy. Long before the establishment of international copyright he believed that foreign authors should be paid royalties; in the days when English authors dominated the American market he was a solid champion of American writers; he believed that we would develop an American style, and he was determined to make the Riverside imprint a mark of distinction. At the Paris Exhibition he won the highest award given to any American publisher.
When the Atlantic came under Houghton’s direction, he gave William Dean Howells, its third editor, a course in economy which had the effect of ousting Bret Harte as a contributor in favor of Mark Twain. Mrs. Ballou is shrewd and fair in her evaluation of the Atlantic editors. She has good words for James Russell Lowell, the founding editor and one of the ablest; she discounts the charm of James Fields, who did much of his editing in England at the firm’s expense and whom she accuses of shady dealings with Dickens. She explains the firm’s dissatisfaction with Thomas Bailey Aldrich, who was lazy and unimaginative, and in her protective way she credits Horace Scudder, a workhorse who was overworked, with building up the literary eminence of Houghton Mifflin at the turn of the century.
Henry O. Houghton believed in partnerships, and he had a way of extracting either capital or intelligent cooperation from the many partners who were junior to him. When the company was incorporated, as it was in 1908, his one-man rule was over; the Atlantic was sold, the educational department moved into its predominance, and vital decisions were made by committee.
Mrs. Ballou’s well-documented chronicle ends in 1920 before Henry A. Laughlin, an heir Mr. Houghton would have approved of, had
brought his invigorating leadership to an empire which needed solidifying.