This is one of those books that was part of the staple diet when I was at school and might well be on the curriculum now because it is able to take you on a rollercoaster on sharing the aspirations, understanding the greed then learning of its dangers. Where things get interesting is when you start to compare this with some of the other John Steinbeck novels you might have read because the location is different from the Californian valleys used in East of Eden and Grapes of Wrath and to unlike those desperately seeking money the irony here is that Kino finds it pretty quickly in the form of the pearl.
Kino and his wife Juana live in a brush hut in poverty but have a desperate need of money once their son gets stung by a scorpion and so head off for a pearl diving trip hoping that Kino can bring up the greatest pearl from the deep. He manages to do just that but the pearl dealers in town try to trick him and he ends up going against the natural laws of his community and becoming a target of thieves and jealousy. Kino announces his attention to leave but finds his canoe broken then is almost killed and murders his attacker before watching his house burn down. That night the three of them head off on foot to cross the mountains but are caught up with by trackers who in the end get killed by Kino but not before they have shot his son. The family return and Kino throws the cursed pearl back into the sea.
Is it well written?
It is a rollercoaster going from the euphoria of finding the pearl to the despair of the trickery and desperation other have for it to a point where everything the pearl could have saved and made better is destroyed. Although I didn’t refer to them in the daily posts there is also a tribal mentality expressed through the songs that Kino hears in his head to express family, joy and evil. There is not too much dialogue but the music in Kino’s head and the expressions shared between him and Juana are enough to convey a great deal of emotion and dialogue.
Should it be read?
It should but the question is when. As a teenager this book passed me by and was one of those set for assignments that because of the length looked deceptively easy and as a result never really got read properly. Coming back to it now, partly thanks to a 99p price tag in Oxfam, it is a much more powerful story. Part of the reason for that is not just that I have a family but as a man strangled by his mortgage with horizons limited by income it is possible to relate to the desire for a pearl in a different way.
Summary – poor man finds wealth but discovers the possibility of untold riches can destroy his world and leave him losing everything
Version read – Pan paperback