I moved to Monterey, CA last summer and decided that while I was here I would read Stienbeck’s catalog. He’s from this area and writes a lot about it. East of Eden takes place a town over in Salinas. The town is now home of the National Steinbeck museum. Cannery Row takes place on Monterey’s Cannery Row. Needless to say, there is a lot of Steinbeck here.
Before The Pearl, the only Steinbeck I’d read were East of Eden and Of Mice and Men. I was not a good English major. I want to say that I really enjoyed both works but that isn’t exactly honest. Rarely have I ever appreciated works like those. They are magnificent treasures of American life, the good and even more so, the bad. I maintain that there is no better way to ruin your day that to read Of Mice and Men. It is stunning literature and evokes such feeling and emotion. I’m glad it’s mandatory reading in so many schools.
The Pearl did similar things to me. It’s a short read, well, I listened to it and it was only about 2.5 hours. Also, it was narrated by Hector Elizondo who was excellent. It is a beautiful story, based on myth or fable if my research (read: wikipedia search) is correct. It follows a young, destitute family who have an infant son who is stung by a scorpion. They try to be seen by the town doctor but are turned away. The father, Kino, is a pearl diver who sets off to find a pearl to pay the doctor. He finds the largest, most magnificent pearl which allows Kino to begin imagining a better life for his family. Through Kino, Steinbeck shows us what it means to love our families.
From that point I kept assuming that some tragedy would befall Kino and his family. But, more than just tragedy, they were beset by the darkest sides of humanity. Much like Of Mice and Men, The Pearl leaves the reader contemplating the depths of human greed and how trivial such concerns are when we compare them to the things that do matter, like family.
Like I mentioned earlier, this novella is an incredible read but it will wreck your day. Read it but plan accordingly.