Monday, March 12, 2007

The Moon is Down - John Steinbeck

“My whole work drive has been aimed at making people understand each other.”
- John Steinbeck

Title: The Moon is Down
Author: John Steinbeck
Year: 1942
Pages: 144 pgs Rating: A-
Book From: Personal library (I commandeered my father's Steinbeck collection)

I love John Steinbeck. I have read a large portion of everything he has written. And I always enjoy reading one of his novels for the first time. This definitely holds true for The Moon is Down.

Continuing on with my March Madness’ John Steinbeck theme read, I just finished this short novel. It is a departure from many of his other novels. First of all, it does not take place in North America, but is located in Europe during a thinly veiled World War II. Written in 1942 at the height of the Second World War, Steinbeck was criticized and attacked for his humanistic portrayal of the German invaders. Was he daring to suggest that Nazi soldiers could be a human being? Well, yes. He does not forgive or condone their actions, but simply tells a story in the way that he does best, portraying people that want to be understood. In this case, that just happens to be occupying soldiers who are part of a larger force that commits horrendous atrocities.

The story has two sides. On one is the courageous story of a small, close-knit community (probably located in Norway), that is occupied by an un-named invader (Germany). It is a story about villagers that do not accept defeat, but silently and diligently continue their fight for freedom. On the other side are the occupying soldiers, mostly young men who have never engaged in any form of combat. As time passes, and their continued presence is abhorred, you witness the soldier’s growing yearning to return home, to be able to walk the streets without fear of reprisals, to eat at a restaurant in which their food is not purposely over salted or spit in. They long for human companionship, kindness and understanding. They strive to escape from the inevitable terror of war-time occupation. It is solely the reader that has the privilege of understanding both sides, as they are destined to never understand each other.

On the inability to fully and completely occupy a village, a person:
Lanser looked at him and smiled a little sadly. “We have taken on a job, haven’t we?”
“Yes,” said the Mayor, “the one impossible job in the world, the one thing that can’t be done.”
“And that is?”
“To break man’s spirit permanently.”
“All invaded people want to resist.”

On remembering the horrors of war, and understanding:
Orden said quietly, “A man of certain memories.”
Lanser stopped in the middle of an order. He looked over slowly at the Mayor and for a moment they understood each other. And then Lanser straightened his shoulders. “A man of no memories!” he said sharply.

I will be taking a mini-break from Steinbeck to head back to the much-neglected TBR challenge, and have just started reading Bee Season by Myla Goldberg.


Wendy said...

I'm a John Steinbeck fan as well...and I haven't read this one. After your lovely review, it goes onto my wish list! Thanks for sharing :)

The Traveller said...

I've never read any Steinbeck, but I have to admit the extracts you've included sound like the sort of thing I'd enjoy reading. I've held off Steinbeck so far because I haven't heard many good things about him. First time for everything!

Wandering Dave said...

I'm currently the same age Steinbeck had achieved when he undertook his travels and on Valentines Day I left home on a 12-month tour of the U.S. and Canada.

I'm maintaining a web site with a blog, column, forum, map room, photo gallery and both audio and video podcasts.

Input is welcome. Ride along with me at

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