The Moon is Down by John Steinbeck (audio)

I don’t remember where I got the recommendation for Steinbeck’s The Moon is Down. As far as I can tell, it’s not one of his better-known works; I know and love his Of Mice and Men, Cannery Row, Travels with Charley, saw the movie East of Eden though I haven’t read it (yet!), also have The Grapes of Wrath on my radar. But this one I hadn’t heard much of. It was recommended to me (by someone) and I found the audio, and it’s just a short little thing on three cds, so it was easy to make time for. I do love Steinbeck’s style and subject matter, and this one is worthy of his high reputation.

Published in 1942, it handles the occupation of a small town in northern Europe by an army that has a lot in common with Hitler’s Germany, though it’s never named. There are references to “The Leader” and a war twenty years past that bears a resemblance to WWI.

This small coastal town is conquered with very little fanfare; 6 of the town’s 12 soldiers are killed, and it takes the people and the mayor a little while to realize what’s happened. The town is a center for coal production, which makes it an important possession, and the occupying force lodges its officers in the mayor’s house while managing coal production. Colonel Lancer has seen war before, and is weary of the tragic consequences of the orders he must carry out; he’d rather rule in peace and order, but the occupation quickly turns ugly. The local people learn to resist, and the occupiers live in fear. One memorable line occurs when one of the occupying officers – lonely for his homeland, friendly faces, and female attentions – wails at the senselessness and unpleasantness of their situation. “Flies conquer the flypaper!” he bitterly says of the occupation.

It’s been a while since I’ve read any Steinbeck, but I recognized his style. The prose is simple, yet moving. This is both a straightforward story of one fictional town’s experience, and an allegory and statement about the futility of war. I’m sure this short novel would make for extended discussion in an educational setting, and I wish I had a professor to help me pick it apart! But as a quick read for entertainment’s sake, too, it’s satisfying, if not happy.

3 Responses

  1. I love Steinbeck! I haven’t read this one, but I have a copy on my shelves.

  2. Oh boy, did I ever go through a Steinbeck phase many years ago! My two favorites are “Travels with Charley” and “Sweet Thursday”, which is the lesser known (and better, in my opinion) sequel to “Cannery Row”. I didn’t like “East of Eden” but may have been too young for it (I was 16). I loved “Grapes of Wrath” and “Tortilla Flat”.

    Oh, this brings me back!

  3. Hi there i am kavin, its my first time to commenting anyplace, when i read this article i thought i could also create comment due to this good article.

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