Tuesday, 6 February 2018

Tortilla Flat by John Steinbeck.

Tortilla Flat was, I believe, John Steinbeck's third novel first published in 1935, and it marked his first of many commercially successful novels. As with many of his novels it is set in Monterey, California.

It tells the story of Danny and his friends, a group of paisanos - a word of Spanish origin referring to poor countrymen. At the start of the novel, in the preface, we see them leaving to join the military during World War I, but by the first chapter they have returned. In that time Danny's grandfather has died and left him two properties (which he almost forgets about): one of which he decides to live in, and the other he rents to his friend Pilon, who then invites Pablo, then also Jesus Maria Corcoran to somehow make up the rent while they lie about, drinking wine, and enjoying life. Until, that is, they burn down the house whilst passed out in a drunken stupor. Then they go to live with Danny and are joined by Pilate and his many dogs.

Tortilla Flat follows the adventures of the friends, some rather extravagant, some essentially rather mundane, but even so this book is such a pleasure to read. It's fun and lighthearted, very comic at times, but above all else it was very warm and vibrant. It's a novel about friendship and we see how, in Monterey where people are poor and are possessions are few, friends and small communities are structured outside the more familiar class system. The friends are close, but, some more than others, can be accused of being manipulative and dishonest, and this does prove to be their downfall. Their main motivation is alcohol and there is an underlying feeling of frustration, and outright dissatisfaction from Danny, and ultimately this is a tragic tale. But it's a beautiful one, very simple and even honest to a degree (though one must acknowledge the reader may be uncomfortable with the portrayal of paisanos as layabouts), and yet again I am reminded that Steinbeck is one of the greatest authors of the 20th Century.

8 comments:

  1. this one and cannery row were a big influence on me when i was young; for the worse, of course: we used to trip down to Monterey and pretend we were Paisanos, in the process getting in all kinds of trouble... sigh... it wasn't great wine, but it was GOOD wine... just remembering the night i spent on the beach; way too much fun...

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    1. Sounds like a interesting life experience, though :)

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  2. It's good to see people are still reading Steinbeck. I keep meaning to read some more by him: I may read East of Eden soon.

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    1. I must get to East of Eden, I really must. Everyone adores it!

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  3. I began reading Steinbeck at very impressionable age of 15-17 and till date, he remains one iof those authors who really crafted my belief system. East of Eden of all books for me is kind of like a personal bible! I loved Tortilla Flat as well; it is a tragedy but there is something touchingly beautiful in this simple tale. I am glad you enjoyed the book, though I do agree there is a slight unease in describing one community as layabout. But I also know that Steinbeck was one of the most humane authors, so while I do think he wrote it more from a 1930s lens, still, not quite acceptable!

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    1. I read Of Mice and Men for my A' Levels and I think it put me off Steinbeck a little. Actually, English Lit A' Level put me off reading for quite a while (it was no fault of the teachers, not at all, I just felt obliged for years to do 'deep reading' as opposed to just for fun. But yes, a beautiful and simple tale. I do adore Steinbeck :)

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    2. Oh!! We have more in common; I was majoring in English back in college, but somehow, studying literature, I guess put me off and you are right, was much less fun. So I somehow got my degree and in Graduate School, completely changed my studies to International Politics. I am glad I did, because had I perused studying English, I would have stopped reading English!

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    3. I know quite a few people who were put off by studying Literature, some for life! It's a shame, I'm glad we went back to reading :)

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