Book – The Pearl
Author – John Steinbeck
Year – 1947
Pages – 120
Genre – Fiction
John Steinbeck has a very confusing reputation. Of Mice And Men is considered by many across Britain as an absolute classic – if for no other reason than until the Government saw fit to cut it, the vast majority of us studied it at GCSE. He won the Nobel Prize for Literature – something most of us haven’t done. He is, by most measures, a pretty big deal. However, I have heard it said that he is considered to be one of the weakest Nobel Laureates (“Where does Bob Dylan rank?” asked Alex when I said this to her) and that his style is nowhere near the level of other writers.
For my part, I loved Of Mice and Men – both as a student and again when I taught it. It is a wonderful book with a message that stands the test of time. And that is why The Pearl has withstood multiple clear outs – because maybe it would be as good. Well, it is.
It is a simple story – Kino is an incredibly poor Mexican pearl-diver with a young baby and a wife to feed. One day, he finds a pearl so large that it might be the biggest in the world ever. Far from being a blessing however, he quickly finds how greed and a lust for power can have a much bigger impact on your life.
From the very beginning, it is dripping with tension, and you just know that bad things are going to happen to poor Kino. It barely lets up throughout, but somehow manages to avoid being a misery. You get the feeling of a fable or moral tale – this book is trying to teach us something about how hard it is to lift yourself up when your starting point is so low. This is an everyday reality for millions of people, and despite this book being written seventy or so years ago, that theme remains as relevant today as it ever has been.
It is a crying shame that Steinbeck is no longer on the GCSE syllabus. We could take a lot from him still. In the meantime, maybe it still is okay to grab the occasional classic and give it a try.