The PearlThe Pearl by John Steinbeck

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

One of the interesting parts of this book is the length. It is a really short book, but the story moves at a different pace than books to which we are accustomed today. I am more than 3/4s of the way through the book and I have the sense that the actions happening now would be in the first or second chapter of a modern book.

I always think of reading classics as something I should do because it is good for my mind rather than being entertaining and relaxing. This book is really beautifully written and, while tense and sad, is not a slog at all.

This book talks about consequences, discrimination, the sadness of life, the futility of non-conformity and how some people will go to any length to get what they want.

One interesting thing about this book is the inclusion of the ‘songs’ – the Song of the Family, the Song of the Pearl, etc. It occurred to me that we all must have songs of these types going on in our head, especially in that space where suddenly we pull back from being in our body and observe the world around us with our minds, like an impartial observer.

There were a couple of passages that really moved me as well. One was about the relationship between men and women. The passage is preceded by Kino striking Juana. “There was no anger in her for Kino. He had said, ‘I am a man,’ and that meant certain things to Juana. It meant that he was half insane and half god. It meant that Kino would drive his strength against a mountain and plunge his strength against the sea. Juana, in her woman’s soul, knew that the mountain would stand while the man broke himself; that the sea would surge while the man drowned in it. And yet it was this thing that made him a man, half insane and half god, and Juana had need of a man; she could not live without a man. Although she might be puzzled by these differences between man and woman, she knew them and accepted them and needed them. Of course, she would follow him, there was no question of that.”

This passage shows an understanding of people that is gorgeous and sophisticated. Also, John Steinbeck‘s writing captures feelings and understanding in a taut few paragraphs of writing.

Another passage that was very sensible and beautiful started “All of the time Juana had been trying to rescue something of the old peace, of the time before the pearl. But now it was gone, and there was no retrieving it. And knowing this she abandoned the past instantly. There was nothing to do, but to save themselves.” Juana is a practical woman in a lot of ways. Her strength lies in giving wise counsel and knowing when to say nothing. She is a wise and elegant character.

Steinbeck’s descriptions are wonderful. He uses adjectives skillfully and artfully.

I think I probably read this book in school at some point, but I really don’t remember reading it. I attended a school that loved to not assign the classics, so it is possible that I didn’t read it. I am glad I found it again.

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