GAN Quest: The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck

“Man’s inhumanity to man makes countless thousands mourn” Robert Burns

😀 😀 😀 😀 🙂

the grapes of wrathWhen Tom Joad returns to his parents’ farm after serving a prison sentence for murder, he finds it deserted. In the four years he has been gone, the land has turned to dust through a combination of drought and poor farming practices. The onset of the Great Depression has meant that the banks have taken over ownership of vast tracts of the land and, in pursuit of profit, are expelling the small tenant farmers to create massive one-crop farms, worked by machines rather than men. Driven by poverty and lack of work, many of the farmers are uprooting their families to go to California, their own promised land, where, they are told, the country is filled with fruit ripe for picking, and there is work for all. Tom and his family join the exodus.

First published in 1939, this is a fairly contemporaneous account of the devastation wrought on Oklahoma farming communities during the Depression, and Steinbeck’s anger and disgust come through loudly in the power of his prose. A starkly political novel, it’s interesting that there is little or no reference to either the politicians or policies of the period. This adds to the feeling of the farmers being isolated, abandoned by their nation and utterly reliant on their own limited resources. It falls somewhere between a call to arms for the poor to unite to overthrow the forces of capitalism, and a warning to the powers that be that the result of driving people to the limits of desperation might be just such an outcome. I didn’t know Steinbeck’s own political stance before reading the book, but was unsurprised to read later that at this period he was involved in the Communist movement within the US.

A large red drop of sun lingered on the horizon and then dripped over and was gone, and the sky was brilliant over the spot where it had gone, and a torn cloud, like a bloody rag, hung over the spot of its going. And dusk crept over the sky from the eastern horizon, and darkness crept over the land from the east.

It’s undoubtedly one of the most powerful books I’ve read and it has left me with many indelible images. The writing is never less than excellent and is sometimes stunning, while the characterisation and brilliant use of dialect make the Joad family and the people they meet on their journey completely real. The story is a simple one, of man’s inhumanity to man – a story that has been told often, but rarely with such concentration and power. But it’s several weeks since I finished reading the book and I still haven’t quite decided what I think of it.

"Departure of the Joads" by Thomas Hart Benton 1939
“Departure of the Joads” by Thomas Hart Benton 1939

On the one hand, most of the first half of the book drags terribly as Steinbeck tells the story of the journey in minute, endless detail. I feel I could now get a job as a car mechanic working on 1930s models. I get the importance of the car to these families, but I don’t care whether bronze wire will wear away as the widget rubs against the doodah – I truly don’t. But the tedium and repetitiveness of parts of the book didn’t bother me as much as the heavy-handed and unnecessary polemical interludes, where Steinbeck spells out his message in case the reader has been too stupid to understand it. I’m guessing any reader who doesn’t ‘get’ it, will have given up the book long before Steinbeck gets to the political pamphlet chapters. Occasionally it stops feeling like a novel at all and becomes almost like a ranty student essay on the evils of capitalism. If he explained the process of supply and demand once, he must have explained it a hundred times – ironic really, since it is surely only needed once, if at all. And the constant misery! Again, yes, absolutely – the story is appalling, more so for being true, and of course we need to see the horrible impact of absolute poverty on people’s lives and humanity. But when authors feel they have to top up the human misery with the old ‘dead dog’ technique, I fear they cross the line between emotional truth and emotional trickery. Of Mice and Men was the book that taught me how easily pathos can turn into bathos, and decades later I feel exactly the same about this one. And then there’s the ending… but we’ll come to that…

“Preachin’s bein’ good to folks when they wanna kill ya for it. Las’ Christmus in McAlester [the jail], Salvation Army come an’ done us good. Three solid hours a cornet music, an’ we set there. They was bein’ nice to us. But if one of us tried to walk out, we’d a-drawed solitary. That’s preachin’. Doin’ good to a fella that’s down an’ can’t smack ya in the puss for it.”

John Steinbeck
John Steinbeck

On the other hand, the story is an important one that is as relevant today, sadly, as at the time of writing. Whether one agrees or not with Steinbeck’s call of Workers Unite! and class struggle as the solution to poverty and ongoing waves of mass migration, whether one believes that capitalism or socialism is the system most likely to bring a more fair and just society in the end, the vivid picture that he draws of humanity’s imperative struggle for survival in even the most hopeless of circumstances cannot fail to move and must surely stir the consciences of those of us whose present comfort depends on the poverty of others. I found myself drawing parallels with the current influx of people from Africa and Asia into Europe, and the issues surrounding illegal immigration in the US. But more than that, I discovered I was making comparisons to slavery and reflecting that at least, under that repellent system, the owners felt that they had to protect their ‘investment’, whereas these people belonged to no-one, had no intrinsic ‘economic value’ and were thus ultimately even more dispensable. An uncomfortable train of thought and a tribute to Steinbeck’s anger that he made me think it against everything I believe.

Dorrus Bowden, Jane Darwell and Henry Fonda in The Grapes of Wrath film (1940) Photograph: Allstar/Cinetext
Dorrus Bowden, Jane Darwell and Henry Fonda in The Grapes of Wrath film (1940) Photograph: Allstar/Cinetext

The women watched the men, watched to see whether the break had come at last. The women stood silently and watched. And where a number of men gathered together, the fear went from their faces, and anger took its place. And the women sighed with relief, for they knew it was all right – the break had not come; and the break would never come as long as fear could turn to wrath.

Sometimes the quality of the writing takes the book almost to the sublime. From the first chapter, with the unforgettable images of the windstorm and the dust and the dying corn, with the women watching to see if their men will break, he makes the land a character in its own right, as important as any Joad, and its death as moving as one of theirs. The story of the turtle’s indomitable spirit as it unwittingly spreads the seed that will allow nature to have its rebirth is one of the most beautiful pieces of writing I have read. While I was never quite sure what message he was attempting to send with the biblical themes, they add a sense of eternality, of inevitability, to the struggle for a more just society. The sheer power and anger of the ‘Moses’ scene will stay with me forever, as will that ending – which I hated even while I recognised the force of its essential truthfulness, and which left me as angry about humanity being reduced to this as Steinbeck could possibly have desired. And just as angry about the emotional manipulation he used to achieve that effect.

Not a book that I can say I wholeheartedly enjoyed, but one that I am glad to have read and will not forget.

Elmer Hader's cover design
Elmer Hader’s cover design

* * * * * * *

Great American Novel Quest

So…how does it fare in The Great American Novel Quest? To win that title it needs to achieve all five of the criteria in my original post…

Must be written by an American author or an author who has lived long enough in the US to assimilate the culture.

us flagAchieved.

The theme must shed light on a specific and important aspect of American culture and society of the time of its writing.

us flagAbsolutely, and furthermore an aspect of Western culture that we are still struggling with today. So – achieved.

It must be innovative and original in theme.

us flagI certainly think the socialist theme would have been innovative in its time and in fact still reads as innovative now, when the Cold War has been won and capitalism appears to have been the victor. (In fact, I am intrigued as to why a book with such a strong socialist message is so highly regarded in the ultra-capitalist US? Answers below, please.) Achieved.

Must be superbly written.

us flagHmm…it is superbly written, there’s no doubt about that, especially the descriptive writing about nature and the land, the biblical echoes in some of the language, and his wonderfully skilled use of dialect. However… there are also huge chunks of it that are simply dull and don’t add much. But I’m going to say achieved, since the excellent bits outweigh the dull bits.

Must capture the entire ‘American experience’.

white_flagI fear not. It isn’t trying to. But one of my criticisms of it is that it doesn’t expand out to set the experience of the ‘Okies’ into the wider context of society, thus giving a one-sided, polemical picture of the poor as fundamentally good and the rich as uniformly bad. A powerful but too simplistic message, though perhaps it wouldn’t have felt that way at the time.

* * * * * * * * *

So not The Great American Novel, but for achieving 4½ stars and four GAN flags, I hereby declare it A Great American Novel. But one I doubt I’ll ever read again…

* * * * * * * * *

Amazon UK Link
Amazon US Link

73 thoughts on “GAN Quest: The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck

  1. I completely agree with you, FictionFan, about the writing here. Some of it is absolutely unforgettable. And I do like the characters. The plot gets heavy-handed, and I agree that Steinbeck goes off on his political tangent. That said though, I think that, given the times, it made sense for him to do so. As you know, the people of those times were absolutely desperate for anything – anything at all – that could save them. It doesn’t surprise me that Steinbeck was so focused on his political message. Doesn’t do a whole lot to enhance the book, but it makes sense, at least to me. Certainly the book is a literary cornerstone of the American experience, even if it does have some real flaws.

    • The writing is so powerful – you can feel his own anger coming through the pages. That was why I felt the political stuff was unnecessary – the rest of the book made his point without him having to spell it out. But as you say, it was a different time and maybe what seems obvious to us now wasn’t so obvious back then. It still surprises me that a book with such a socialist message should be so admired in the US though – not the stuff about the appalling human misery, but Steinbeck’s message for a solution. Intriguing!

  2. I found this one really hard-going, although I was only about 15 when I first read it. I agree completely about the quality of the writing and I think I only forced myself to finish it out of respect for that. Certainly not an enjoyable book, but a very important one. Brilliantly reviewed, too, you have beautifully captured the essence of it, in my most humble opinion.

    • I don’t know whether I’d have liked it more or less when I was 15. I was certainly more idealistic and pretty left-wing in my teens and twenties, whereas I’m a cynical old middle-of-the-roader now. I suspect if I’d managed to struggle through the dull bits I might have been much more in tune with the ‘message’ back then. Certainly although I felt he went OTT with the bathos in Of Mice and Men, I still loved it when I was a teenager, but suspect I’d be angry at the emotional manipulation now. Thank you very much indeed! 😀 It took me weeks to write the review – I’ve found it really hard to know quite what I think of the book.

      • You’ve done a great job – and it is testiment to the book itself that it leaves such an abiguous feeling about it. I also loved OMAM as a teenager, I found it a much easier book to read, admittedly. I have no great desire to read it again now, I must say,

        • 😀 Yes, it left me frothing with anger that lasted for days – both at the story and at Steinbeck, and every time I tried to write the review I just got angry all over again! OMAM is definitely an easier read and I’m pretty sure I didn’t look more deeply than just the main story. I’m a bit intrigued to see what my adult self would make of it – but not intrigued enough to read it!

  3. I love your GAN criteria – marvellous stuff and a good way to weave the posts in your blog together. I’m also glad you mention the “dead dog” technique, which really annoys me, and means I know not to read this, although I can’t say I’ve ever been tempted.

    Have you read “The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists”? That is a polemic with a message but puts the lectures in the mouths of characters and seems to work better than it feels this one does. Although you do learn a lot about how to scrimp the decorating in that book!

    • The GAN Quest has been great fun so far – it’s forced me to read some books I’ve been studiously avoiding for years, and even if they’re not all The Great American Novel, they’ve been some of the most powerful books I’ve read in years. And yes, the criteria do make me think about the book a bit more deeply maybe.

      Haha! You can add ‘dead dogs’ to my list of aversions! Every time an author kills a dog, I want to chuck the book at the wall! It just seems like such a cheap way to get a response. No, I haven’t read that one, though it’s been on my radar for a while. I might have to shove it up the priority list…

  4. Can you believe I never read this one? Typically, I find dialog hard to read (even my dear Mark Twain challenges me with it, though my ear is more attuned to a Southern drawl!). As for suffering through these times? Well, I think you said it best — nothing you’d want to re-read, ha!

    • The GAN Quest is making me read lots of books I’ve been avoiding for years – sometimes with more pleasure than others! I didn’t find the dialect in this one as hard to follow as Twain’s but maybe that’s ‘cos I’m not attuned to the Southern drawl. But, though I’m glad I read this one, I don’t know that I’d be recommending it particularly – it was a hard slog at times…

  5. I read “The Grapes of Wrath” years ago. Like you, I did not read it again; but it was indeed a very powerful and at times poetic book that one does not forget. Many indelible images; for me, particularly the opening scenes, and then the experiences at the labor camp picking oranges. For some reason, the fact that the Joads and the other workers were told they would be paid one small hourly rate for the oranges they picked, and then had that rate lowered once they finished; told that if they didn’t like it that was too bad; with people coming in and breaking the heads of anyone who dared to try to unionize–that seemed so dreadfully unfair to me. And even though I had generally studied some American history, I did not know the depth of the stories and of the injustice.

    In 1938, about the time of this story, Upton Sinclair, the writer, and an avowed Socialist, was almost elected governor of California. This will illustrate the depth of anger and despair of the working people at that time. He was narrowly defeated through the efforts of William Randolph Hearst and a few other immensely wealthy business people, who did everything they could to smear and discredit him. The story of that campaign was told in a book written a decade or so ago; the book was well reviewed, but after skimming it a bit in a bookstore, I decided that I could not bear to read about how multimillionaire capitalists lied to and frightened people in order to maintain their hegemony. The history of America, and almost certainly the history of Great Britain, is essentially a story of how rich and powerful people used this power to dominate and suppress the great majority of common folk.In America, they didn’t do it by “divine right of kings,” or through an inherited aristocracy, but through the accumulation of immense sums of money which could be used to control all branches of government. During the Depression, things were so bad, that there was indeed a risk of some kind of popular uprising. So Steinbeck’s story is powerfully evocative of that.

    Perhaps seventy years ago, Steinbeck was considered among the first rank of American novelists. Now he is probably considered less so, though still respected. I don’t think I ever chose to read another Steinbeck novel, though maybe I read “Cannery Row”. I did like “Travels with Charley,” which is a lighter and still moving book about his own travels through the landscape of the country with his dog of that name. “Grapes of Wrath” is a very worthwhile novel to read, to get a sense of a time and place in America, and also for the powerful prose. I think that your four and a half stars is accurate, at least in the context of serious literature.

    • Yes, with some books, once is enough, whereas there are others I happily read again and again – Gatsby for instance. The opening scenes of this one are incredible – it would have been too much to hope he could have maintained that level all the way through, but there were other points where he reached the same heights. I think these stories of terrible injustice hit harder when they happen in our countries – we’re so proud of our democracies and belief in fairness and justice that it always comes as a shock to know that we have such stains on our past, especially when it’s fairly recent. It does go a long way to explaining why there was such a flirtation with communism amongst some American intellectuals in the middle of the last century. Certainly in the UK we add entitlement by birth to entitlement by money, but these days it’s the rich who hold power just as much as in the States. I’d like to think both countries have moved on enough to stop a repetition of the horrors of the Great Depression, and certainly it’s been interesting that we didn’t see anything like the same human misery during our recent huge economic collapse. Though it has been horrifying to see the rise in the number of people dependant on food banks and charity to survive – here and, I assume, in the US.

      I like books to have a political awareness, but I did feel Steinbeck got too polemical at times. In fiction, I feel authors should tell the story in a way that gets their message over without having to spell it out. But you could feel his anger burning off the pages, and I can’t remember the last time a book got me quite so angry (both at the message and at the author). And though I criticised the bathos, it still made me cry! Definitely worth reading – once. I might read Cannery Row at some point but, though I admire Steinbeck’s writing, I don’t think he’s ever going to make my list of favourite authors.

    • Thnak you! 🙂 Yes, in terms of its power and the quality of the writing it’s definitely one of the best, even if I didn’t find it the most enjoyable. Hmm… not in my top 3 though (Gatsby, Revolutionary Road and American Pastoral), but maybe in my top 5 – so far…

  6. I think you would like “Travels With Charley,” it is a genial book with a good deal of charm. I usually think of it in combination with Graham Greene’s “Travels With My Aunt.” I love Greene as a writer, but “Travels With Charley” is better, I think .

    I agree with you about polemicism. Of course, “Grapes of Wrath” was written at an awful tiime for this country, and so one does not really blame Steinbeck for being so angry about what was going on right then. I never forget Henry Fonda’s speech at the end of the movie version, though I am not sure if it was taken directly from the book. Around that time, the Hays Codes came in; and part of what these censors tried to do, was to sanitize or even ban movies which were very pro-labor, pro-working person and anti-capitalist. It seems that the rich people who ran the country did not like to be criticized, or have workers think that they might deserve a better deal. But in the ’30’s, there were many movies which were very much anti-big business.

    • I might enjoy it, because he does write about nature and the land wonderfully – but you’d have to promise me Charley doesn’t die at the end! Steinbeck does have a habit of killing off animals, and I can take a ton of human misery more easily than one poor little puppy! Not quite sure what that says about me… 😉

      I haven’t seen the movie for some odd reason – must watch it. But I think I’ll have to calm down about the book before I do. Tom does make a speech towards the end of the book, about how he’ll always be there in the fight for the poor. Actually I think it would have been better if the book ended at that point – from there on in really Steinbeck was just ratchetting up the misery, which was pretty unnecessary by that point. Yeah, for two countries that pride themselves on freedom of speech our overlords sure aren’t shy about restricting it, are they? And somehow we keep letting them…

      • I guess I would have to re-read “Travels With Charley,” to be sure. It is a cheerful story of traveling around; on buses, I think, with his dog. I don’t think anything happens to him, not along the way, at least. But I appreciate your wanting to be wary.

        I read Steinbeck’s “The Red Pony” in school, I guess most American kids do. I think that ended badly. I also hate stories where something bad happens to an animal. And it seems that in almost every “young adult” story about an animal, he ends up being killed in some manner. I have no idea why the stories are that way; are they thinking that they are teaching children some lesson? I’ll tell you what “animal stories” I liked: “Winnie-the-Pooh” and Uncle Wiggily stories. Nothing bad ever happens in them! The other ones are traumatizing, particularly for children.

        • Ha, yes, I read a “ripping” review of The Red Pony a while back that persuaded me never, ever to read the book! My own trauma dates back to age 3 or 4 – a picture book about a foal named Stormy. The big centre double-page spread was a picture of Stormy watching his mother being taken away in a horse box. I sobbed so much my mother was afraid I’d make myself ill. She assured me it all worked out OK in the end, but I never believed her! 😉 The fact is that…ahem…several years later I can still vividly remember that picture. And I’ve avoided books about animals ever since. No Black Beauty for me! No Incredible Journey! No Lassie!! Haha! I’ve never come across Uncle Wiggily – I feel I’ve really missed out! I wonder if I’m too old…

  7. What a wonderful review FF

    I’m slightly nonplussed though because I honestly can’t remember if I HAVE read this one, or merely feel as if I have because of the film!

    I definitely HAVE read The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists, and loved it – I know I read a lot of books written out of a burning sense of injustice by socialists and communists in my teens and twenties. I think Ts and Ts are specially potent and drawing times for such reads, as if you have any sense of idealism and feeling for higher ideals, the passion of those feelings burns high at that age, and the sense of certainly and hopefulness in revolutionary politics makes (or did, for me) the polemic in these books necessary food and drink. I think age/maturity has a tendency to dim – not necessarily the sense of idealism, but the sure certainty of the practicalities of how any of this is to be achieved – coming perhaps from a greater sense of nuance, dapple, in all our make-up rather than this or that.

    I do also remember, much more clearly, Upton Sinclair, The Jungle, whom William mentions. I read that long before I became vegetarian, but it certainly did its bit to make me change my eating habits.

    The curious thing is I kind of have a picture in my mind of the physical books of the Sinclair and the Tressel, AND the Steinbeck (obviously a completely different picture from the edition here) which makes me think I must have had it, and read it…….and now you’ve made me want to either read, or re read…….

    And it some ways, I think the books we maybe can’t instantly review because they have churned us over and shaken us about and made us want to shout at them, but also to stop and be blown away, really are the best ones, because they are really burrowing under the skin and making you talk with yourself – a strong experience, a changing experience, the antithesis of a book to read whilst flicking the TV controls, half listening to music, etc. An antiwallpaper experience, a pay attention book!

    I also kind of think that that kind of ‘polemic’ writing perhaps suited the times – in a sense things were being explored and explained which were not ‘mainstream’ in literature; often the chattering classes write/wrote about themselves, and how the underprivileged had to live their lives was far less known, far easier to ignore/have no idea about than it is today. Ignorance today is far less excusable.

    • Thank you, m’dear! 😀 I reckon if you’d read it, you’d remember it – it’s not one that’s easy to forget. I thought I had at least started reading it before, but I found I definitely hadn’t. It is very much your kind of thing, I think, though those dull passages about car mechanics are tough to get through, and you might feel as I did about the deliberate attempt to manipulate the reader’s emotions (I know every writer does that, but not usually as blatantly). I haven’t seen the film, oddly – considering how much I love Henry Fonda I can’t think why. Maybe I’ve been subconsciously avoiding it because of the whole Steinbeck misery thing.

      Yes, indeed – while I think I’d still have struggled with the dullness and repetitiveness of parts of the book when I was young, I expect the political stuff would have had me well fired up. It still did, but the older me sees that he’s simplified the arguments too much – made it all seem too black and white, and too easy somehow. Whether that means I’m older and wiser, or just older and more cynical, I’m not sure. But that was partly what angered me – it’s not enough to say it’s all somebody else’s fault – not in a democracy! If it is, what on earth is the point of democracy!! Do I believe the rich did this thing to the poor? Well, yes – mostly. Do I think this means all rich people are bad and all poor people are good? No. NO! I bet there were rich people who were trying to do something (Steinbeck for one!). It’s too easy to say one ideology is to blame and another one will solve it. Good grief! I’ve just written a review about Stalinist Russia where state-induced famine and collectivisation were starving millions of rural poor to death at exactly the same period! What’s the difference?? Was Steinbeck unaware of that when he was urging communism?

      See? I still can’t think about the book without getting furious!! It’s largely this book that’s been causing my reviewer’s block – every time I tried to write it I ended up doing a polemical rant that Steinbeck himself would have been proud of. I found the whole critical bit too easy to write – could have done thousands of words on that (aren’t you glad I didn’t?) – but I was so angry I couldn’t get the praise out, and yet I knew/know there’s so much to praise about it. And I know some of my criticisms are to do with hindsight and the fact that for me it’s the past whereas for Steinbeck it was the present. Gahhhh! I still don’t know what I think of this damn book!! I must eat chocolate urgently!!

      • Well, I’m cheering and high fiving furiously. I do think that a major reason why we need ‘art’ is to shake us awake, needle us, and make us have that debate with ourselves. And, of course, if we can also be given a bit of entertainment to rest our weary cogitations from overwhelming us, so much the better. I will definitely have to have a read. Or re-read. I do think Steinbeck has done a very good job with his firing up of heart and head. And I guess that in its time, he was delivering needed polemic! Time for the subtleties of debate once we have all come into contact with the simplicities, kind of thing. You can’t begin to engage with the subtleties of how, for example, the further refinements of sub atomic particle physics happens, till the basic understanding of the big beasts of the atom are known!

        • Yes, indeed, but this one was perhaps a bit short on the entertainment side! They did all get together for a sing-song at one point and I was so pleased! But it didn’t last…

          It’ll be interesting to see what ya think of it – I’m sure ya’ll enjoy lots of it, but I wonder how ya’ll feel about the polemical chapters, and the fixin’ the truck, and the religious (or anti-religious – still not sure!) stuff, and the end…

          • Well, I did get kind of pleased at all the decorating stuff in Ragged Trousered Philanthropists – again, it kind of fits with the idea of celebrating/valuing the work of manual labour, and it being as much something which could be appreciated as all the interminable modern day versions – baffling information about hacking and programming and patching and all that which is the stuff of some crime writing. I’d probably rather read about trucks to be honest – I know what a truck IS, and can picture it (gets out picture book ‘My First Truck – THIS is a monkey wrench – and THIS is a wing nut!’

            I’ll let you know…………..

            But I’m sure I’ll LOVE the misery – it sounds reassuringly Russian!

            • Ha! I admire your optimistic approach – we shall see! *smirks confidently*

              That’s where I went wrong! I forgot to numb myself with vodka before reading!!

    • Hehe! I just had to share this review from Goodreads. I mentioned that the bit about the turtle was one of the most beautifully written things ever – well, here’s an alternative viewpoint…

      “So I’m reading an entire chapter about a turtle on a dirt road. A truck comes by and flips the turtle over.

      Yeah, maybe it’s a metaphor for the Joad’s struggle. Maybe it symbolizes puny man’s helplessness in the cosmos.

      But most likely it’s just another pointless artistic frolic at the expense of the narrative.”

      Now why can’t I be as succinct as that! 😆

      • Heh heh. But then, you were grabbed by that turtle. And I suspect you were meant to be. I like understanding to be both rational, left brain, and viscerally, right brain, emotionally and intuitively. Now if only those erudite but often dessicated Polity publications had metaphorical turtles as well….

        • It just shows how differently things affect people. I sobbed my heart out over that turtle – and its little story goes on longer than one chapter. In fact for a couple of chapters I was so worried about it, I couldn’t concentrate on the woes of the humans…!

          • Well I’m sure I appreciate the warning not to go near a turtle appearing when I’m out in public. Clearly face unpuffing time needs to be carefully scheduled in the diary……..

    • If you do decide to read it and don’t have a paper copy, I do recommend this particular Kindle version – it’s very well illustrated with loads of stuff from that artist and others, some in colour, and also stills from the film.

      • Oh, great, pictures – that’s kind of the piece of chocolate in the book. Well, if my memory of a dusty paperback on the shelf is only a past, rather than a present one, I shall do that

  8. An absolutely brilliant review – I’m guessing the break following your reading of this one helped in this instance. I’m not sure I could manage this one, I’m not big on overt political messages of any sort but it was very enjoyable to read your take on this one.

    • Thank you! 😀 Yes, I must admit this one has really messed me up in terms of reading and reviewing over the last few weeks – it really induced a block, which is a tribute to how much it affected me, I suppose! It’s a pity, because the actual meat of it, about the family, I’m sure would be your cuppa, but there’s so much political ranting I couldn’t honeslty recommend it to you. It’s one where an abridged copy might actually work well, depending on how it was abridged. I’d quite like to cut out all the bits I thought were over the top and see what’s left – I suspect it might be even more powerful without all that stuff…

  9. I love following your search for the GAN. Interesting that this novel predated Ayn Rand. Talk about excessive rants! But as one reader mentioned, thinking of GoW in context of its time does make one want to cut the author a little slack. I haven’t read this one, and I’m not sure I feel compelled to, although I may just dip a toe in sometime down the road. Maybe I’ll skip the dull parts….

    • I have to say I don’t think I’ve read a single one that hasn’t affected me a lot, though not always in a good way! But it’s been a great way to force myself to read some books I’ve been assiduously avoiding. I get just as annoyed with contemporary authors who become too heavy-handed with the political message – in fact I could feel myself echoing a lot of what I said about A Fine Balance in this one, including the “dead dog” technique! But this one is much better written than A Fine Balance – I’m still not sure whether I hate it overall, but I know I loved some parts of it. And it made me frothing mad and it made me sob buckets (even when I knew I was being manipulated) so I might… might… recommend it to you. I’d love to strip out the dull and polemic parts and see what it reads like then – better, I suspect!

      Regarding your other comment, one of the things I did feel about it was exactly that these things still happen. Over here, the big political issue is immigrants coming in to work the land, illegal often, run by gangmasters, paid below minimum wage etc etc. And hated by (sections of) the native population for ‘undercutting wages’, ‘taking our jobs’, ‘abusing our NHS’ etc. And I read a book a while back, Attica Locke’s The Cutting Season, that suggested to me that illegal immigration in the States was simply a new form of slavery too. I reckon global warming is the solution – wipe out humanity and let the world have another go at creating something better!! (I told you this book made me angry, didn’t I? 😉 )

  10. Oh, and I also wanted to say that migrant workers in California are still taken advantage of by unscrupulous growers. I’ve written quite a bit on this topic for California Rural Legal Assistance. There are some real horror stories out there. Good thing workers have legal advocacy, but it’s still quite frustrating. But there is so much joy when oppressed workers win the battle and are paid the wages they are owed. My husband always knew when I was writing CRLA’s annual report. I would sit at the dinner tale, tell each story, and then start crying.

  11. I was probably about 14 when I read this book. I loved it.
    I didn’t see the movie til years afterward–to get another
    jolt from Henry Fonda’s portrayal. I agree. Not THE
    Great American Novel, but AN important American novel.
    Thanks for such a readable review.

    • I can’t decide whether I’d have liked it more if I’d read it young – probably. I think I was less critical of writing technique then. But whether I eventually decide I loved or hated it, it certainly is a powerful read, and one I won’t be forgetting. Must watch that movie…!!

    • Yes, I think I’d have been more involved in the characters and less bothered about the rest of the stuff if I’d read it when I was young. That’s not to say I wasn’t interested in them now – I sobbed buckets at various points! Poor Rosasharn! Yes, he was – and so great at these honourable working man roles… I must watch it too!

  12. I read this when I was in my teens and the plight of the migrant laborers moved me. We had little of the material things in my own home, but after reading that I felt wealthy. It still hurts to think of it. And the powers that be use them as pawns in politics. If my dad could see me now, he would swear I had gone left on him.

  13. I was waiting for this review! You did not disappoint, FF. (I was abroad and couldn’t connect until now.) Wonderful observations and analysis. I read this a long time ago and you refreshed my memory on what I liked and did not. I remember being impatient at all the repetition and soap boxing, but the beautiful writing and imagery made up for a lot of that frustration. Well done! (As always 🙂 )

    • Thank you! 😀 Yes, it’s one of those that I’m happy I’ve read even if I can’t honestly say I enjoyed the experience. But some of it is fabulous – when he’s writing about the land and nature especially. The windstorm at the beginning and the floods at the end are incredibly well written – just a shame about all the other stuff that slows it down to such a crawl. And that ending…!!!

  14. PS I’d choose communism before I’d vote for Trump! (Just thought I’d throw my hat in the race… The comments race that is.) Actually I’d choose a potato before Trump…

  15. I’ve been waiting for this one. Brilliant review. And I must admit, I’m surprised at the high rating it got! I think I’ve seen the movie…probably when it came out, so I don’t remember it much. And I’ve never read the book, I fear. Just because.

    J. Edgar Hoover loved Steinbeck lots, you know…

    • Thank you! *smiles bigly* Oh, I thought you had read it! Don’t worry – I’ve added it to your TBR! I must watch the movie sometime – next time I need to be made miserable…

      Did he really? That’s quite fascinating – I’d have thought he’d have hated him, what with him being a commie and all…

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