December 22, 2016

The Pearl (Steinbeck)

I was very happy to find an accessible literary classic based in Mexico that was set more or less in an area where I was headed (La Paz on the Baja side of the Sea of Cortez, not far from where our sailing friends had departed for their crossing to Mazatlan).

I read in bed and by the pool as an additional effort in my not-so-successful struggle to increase my literary education while getting the most from our sabbatical year.

The prose is chest-thumping poetry of rhyme and song. The seed is an epic story that’s been retold by the native peoples of the region over time and eventually shared with Steinbeck. But, Steinbeck’s version is written as a musically evocative pattern of simple short direct English sentences occasionally punctuated with Spanish and the unique sounds of the native peoples’ speech from the Sea of Cortez.

This work inspired me - reading and hearing the words in my head was a pleasure on every page, even while it was *so* depressing. I had forgotten about the sense of foreboding I felt ¾ of the way through Of Mice and Men, but this book brought it right back to me in all of its unique horrific building tension.

The native peoples and poverty in this book was quite the contrast to staying in Mazatlan, primarily hanging out with the sailing/cruising community, and occasionally interacting with the full-on dedicated gringo beach tourist community.

That difference between the parable Steinbeck wrote in 1947 and reality of where/what I was experiencing today helped me mentally tie together so much of what I was trying to process about the blending of the formerly (and sometimes still) thriving native communities in South America and the European immigrants into the current South American reality we experienced on our 2+ month tour.

If you are looking for a good classic Mexican-based novella (or a good intro to Steinbeck’s writing style), I highly recommend this one. (2 of my favorite excerpts below, for your reading pleasure.)

For it is said that humans are never satisfied, that you give them one thing and they want something more. And this is said in disparagement, whereas it is one of the greatest talents the species has and one that has made it superior to animals that are satisfied with what they have. 

The killing of a man was not so evil as the killing of a boat. For a boat does not have sons, and a boat cannot protect itself, and a wounded boat does not heal.

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