I just had no idea what was coming, when I picked up this book. Nothing at all.
(Note: I actually read this before The Bridge of San Luis Rey, but when I took my week off, I forgot to review it.)
What would you think if you were about to read The Pearl, by John Steinbeck? I had general feelings of classic American literature, mixed with what I remember of my high school assignment to read The Grapes of Wrath. (I think I was also looping in some Pearl S. Buck, in my mind, too.) While in hindsight I can understand The Pearl as part of the same author’s body of work, I just was so not expecting a book titled “The Pearl” to be what it was.
So you don’t get sideswiped: The Pearl is based on some ancient Mexican folk tales about the Pearl of the World, which was found and then lost again. It tells the story of one man and his small family, poor and exploited, who find the pearl and what happens to them because of it. It is tremendously like more modern stories about someone winning the lottery or suddenly becoming super famous, and it has the same sad twists as these stories. But through the lens of a much older Mexico.
This little book (aka novella) is so full of strife and disappointment. Don’t even bother to be all looking for a silver lining. When studied in school, teachers talk about “evil” and also about a man versus himself, man versus man, and man versus society. The main characters are so vulnerable in their initial naivety, but are quick to learn. We just want to reach out and protect them, but it’s really us who are learning from this story about harsh reality.
It’s a good book. It’s tense and realistic, it’s clear and concise. It’s interesting and you really start pulling for the characters. It might not be the subject matter I would choose, but it’s tremendously well-written. A classic, for sure.
Other books by John Steinbeck:
- The Grapes of Wrath
- Winter of Our Discontent
- East of Eden
- Cannery Row
- Travels with Charley
- Tortilla Flat
- and others….
I’ll have to do these later, because once again I read a book and promptly lost it. It’ll turn back up on the bookshelf under “S” in fiction.