Book Review — The Pearl by John Steinbeck

“It is not good to want a thing too much. It sometimes drives the luck away. You must want it just enough, and you must be very tactful with the Gods.” – John Steinbeck, The Pearl

Kino, a Mexican diver is the protagonist of the novel who being subjected to social injustice, comes to learn the repercussions of greed and foolhardy behavior. His aspirations are big but means are limited and so he is left to wonder what future beholds for his family. When his son Coyotito falls ill and the town doctor refuses to treat him, Kino and his wife Juana look to pearl mining to solve their problems. As chance would have it, Kino comes in possession of The Pearl of the World – a rather chunky pearl meant to shower riches upon the family. But at a time when wealth and power bred frauds of the worst kind, the family only encounters more fallaciousness every step of the way.  As readers, we witness an individual’s struggle not only against an apathetic society but a grapple with oneself to not let the inner demons reign.

Image Courtesy – Goodreads.

I was a little apprehensive picking up a John Steinbeck book. Would I be able to grasp it? Will the content be interesting and not puzzling? I always have these questions when reading literary texts. And much to my surprise, Steinbeck’s writing style is direct and easy to get into. No overuse of imageries or overwhelming content. He weaves a story, uplifting a character from the lower section of society and helps us to understand how greed and ambition can change the mien of a person. We get a sense of Kino and Juana’s simple lifestyle from their attire to their meager corn-cake meals to their bare minimum household. Their people are demeaned by the upper caste in society and despite having some money to provide for the services of the doctor, they are turned down simply for belonging to the lower caste. But when they find the pearl, everyone suddenly becomes so amiable and generous towards the family.

Kino’s character, though very fierce and protective of his family, is a bit proud and unthinking. He doesn’t understand Juana’s POV and takes rash measures at times. If only he hadn’t done certain things, maybe they wouldn’t have had to flee. Juana is a commendably strong character. Not only does she stick with her husband throughout, despite his brashness, but also displays a clarity of thought and action, astounding in association to the situation. Throughout the novel, we grow to empathize with Kino and Juana as they are undoubtedly pushed to extremes by the insolence of several beings. Steinbeck mixes the concept of music with feeling to establish the atmosphere. I found that idea to be splendid and the Song of the Family is something we all can hum to. This book is a quick, touching read that throws light on the plight of divers in 20th century Mexico. The ending was a bit disturbing but apart from that, I enjoyed it thoroughly. I recommend it to everyone who loves reading.

Ratings – 4 stars on 5.

Meera

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