The Grapes of Wrath – Steinbeck

Oh man. Oh, man.

At least one of those is for the book, which… it’s maybe not quite as bleak as The Road but because you know it actually happened (OK, so the specific details of the Joad’s story may not have all happened to one family, but still) it’s that much worse. And that it happened less than 100 years ago in one of the richest places in the world. Man.

A part of one of them, though, is for my attempt to livetweet it, a la Moby-Dick (those are two separate sets of italics, typesetting fans; the space is in roman) which was not a complete success. It seemed to be well suited for it – action-based, short chapters. But then the chapters got longer. And it got too hard to decide what the “highlight” of the chapter was. Which character dying, leaving, breaking down in complete despair deserved the 140 characters? And then things got really dark, and I just had to give it up.

The book generally alternates between a generalised reportage from the dustbowl/depression-era Oklahoma-California and the story of Tom Joad and his family, trying to find a way to live after the bank repossesses their small holding, lured west by the promise of work, but hearing worse and worse stories from those who went before them. They are beset by difficulties, some caused by lack of preparation, more caused by so many others trying to do the same thing, and tragedies. Some of them are too weak, physically or mentally to last the course, but they keep plodding on, because there’s no alternative.

It’s interesting to read in the context of the current economic climate – however bad it is now, it doesn’t seem to be as bad as it was then, and also in the context of the current climate climate – how little it takes to displace a population and create a wave of migrants that overwhelm the place they move to, in desperation driving wages down to below starvation levels, and how the comfortable classes defend themselves by lashing out at perceived communism (also interesting to see the atmosphere in which the second world war started, and the antipathy to communism even then) and the characterisation of banks as monsters created by man and…

It’s a great book, utterly heart-breaking, and should be required reading for everyone.


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