Sunday, 28 October 2018

La Perle by John Steinbeck


La Perle by John Steinbeck
First published in English as The Pearl by Viking Press in America in 1947. French language translation by Renee Vavasseur and Marcel Duhamel published by Gallimard in 1950.

My 1940s read for my 2018-19 Decade Challenge. Also a Classics Club Challenge read and a Book In French.

How I got this book:
Swapped for at the Chef Boutonne little library

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Check for La Perle in these bookstores:

The Book Depository
Wordery
Waterstones
Amazon US / Amazon UK

In the town they tell the story of the great pearl - how it was found and how it was lost again. They tell of Kino, the fisherman, and of his wife, Juana, and of the baby, Coyotito. And because the story has been told so often, it has taken root in every man's mind.

I didn't realise until I actually came to read The Pearl that Steinbeck's novella is a retelling of a Mexican folk tale he himself had heard told whilst in Mexico. The central tale itself is therefore a relatively simple story, however it is also one with which I believe everybody could relate and I loved the way in which Steinbeck creates the world surrounding Kino and Juana. Their characters are completely believable throughout and I particularly liked the idea of the gathering neighbours all rushing to peer over their hedges at every opportunity.

The Pearl isn't a happy story and is essentially a moral tale illustrating the old maxim of 'be careful what you wish for'. However Steinbeck increases the scope to encompass the racism and derogatory treatment experienced by the native people at the hands of rich white immigrants. Kino and Juana's prayers seem to be answered when Kino surfaces grasping the biggest pearl ever seen. Now they can pay the white doctor, he surely will treat their baby son? I loved how graphically Steinbeck illustrates the lifestyle differences between the two communities, each actually dependent on the other yet almost totally separate. His prose is almost poetry or song in its repetition and the idea of Song is important in guiding Kino's actions.

I read this novella in French having spotted a copy at our local Little Library. It was one of the slimmest books there and I knew from having previously read Steinbeck that his writing style is generally quite clear and direct. This proved the case in translation too so La Perle was a perfect choice from a language-learning point of view. Despite needing to look up several words on each page I was still utterly gripped by the adventure. Plus I have now learned lots of new useful words such as etouffer (to stifle) and paletuvier (mangrove). Whether I will remember them next time I see them remains to be seen!


Search Lit Flits for more:
Books by John Steinbeck / Retellings / Books from America

8 comments:

  1. Steinbeck was assigned reading for me in high school, but I didn’t have to read this one. I’ve always wanted to read more of his work. I liked what I read of it.

    Aj @ Read All The Things!

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    1. We read Of Mice And Men at school which I loved. I got back into his writing with an Audible audiobook of Cannery Row a few years ago.

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  2. This sounds intriguing, especially the way the author so clearly illustrated how the communities were so separate yet dependent. Idk if I've read any translated books, but I'm glad to hear this was a good one!

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    1. Now we've got our holiday home in France I'm trying hard to improve my language skills. Reading in French is a good way for me to pick up useful (and less-useful!) words and phrases :-)

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  3. This sounds fantastic! And who doesn't love learning new words?!?

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    1. I'm fascinated by the evolution of language! So much of English was basically nicked from Norman French anyway so it's fun to spot the connections :-)

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  4. I read of Mice and Men back in secondary school but have been meaning to read more of his novels because I know they are going to be just as wonderful. I am glad you could love this one so much and it makes me all the more excited for when I can find a copy for myself! I want to read this one and East of Eden in particular.

    My recent post: https://oliviascatastrophe.com/2018/10/my-best-friends-exorcism-book-review/

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    1. I read East Of Eden when I borrowed it from Dave - it's great.
      I've got Tortilla Flat awaiting me too :-)

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