Tortilla Flat by John Steinbeck
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
I wasn’t sure what to expect going into this one. For The Grapes of Wrath and East of Eden John Steinbeck is one of my favorite authors. Some of his shorter books, though, are hit or miss. I’d heard good things about Tortilla Flat and how Steinbeck incorporated Arthurian myth into the novel, so I figured it was high time to give it a read. (The movie came on TMC while I was reading and I watched it; it sucked and was vastly different than the book in the end.)
Tortilla Flat isn’t going to replaced the two long novels listed above as my favorite Steinbeck, but I did enjoy it. Each chapter can almost stand alone as a separate little vignette about the Paisanos living above Monterey, Calif., and yet they all fit together to make a whole tale about Danny inheriting two houses and how it changes the lives of him and his friends. Each chapter, like each Arthurian tale, has its own little morality lesson. If you come in expecting to find Lancelot and Guinevere, though, you’ll be disappointed. Connecting come of the characters to knights of the round table is possible, but there is no love story, no betrayal involving a woman, and no Morgan Le fay or Mordred, either.
It has been said the book is racist because the lazy Mexicans are chronically unemployed and always in search of gallons of wine. Well, consider the time period. Most of America was unemployed in the 1930s, and anyone who has read about Steinbeck knows that he loved and respected people like Danny and his friends. The search for wine was a story catalyst, like the Holy Grail, and often provided some humor. In many ways, the whole gang reminded me of a group of secondary characters in a Charles Dickens’ novel.
One thing that annoyed me was the formal speech. I just couldn’t swallow the idea of these Paisanos using words like “thee” and “thou” and “Where goest thou?” As a literary device, I understand why he did it, but I think it was completely unnecessary and pulled me out of the story every time.
I listened to this as an audio book. The narration was extremely well done, with good accents that always cued me in to which character was speaking.
If you enjoyed Steinbeck’s Cannery Row, you’ll like this one, and vice versa. The books are very similar as far as the types of people you’ll encounter. I think I actually liked Tortilla Flat a little better.
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