Friday 20 March 2015

Book Review - Cannery Row

The best part of taking part in a #TCBCChallenge (you can know more about it here) is that you don't know which book they'll throw at you. This most of the time results in you finding out about a new book, author or genre. The March challenge for me was Cannery Row by John Steinbeck, deemed as a modern classic by Penguin. This is my first Steinbeck and now I am interested in reading more of his books. 

The novel is set during the great depression in Monterey, California. It revolves around the lives of people living in Cannery Row, a street lined with sardine canneries. There's a bunch of eccentric characters in the book. Lee Chong - the shrewd grocery shop owner, Doc - a marine biologist who is afraid of getting his head wet, Dora with her flaming orange hair who owns the Bear Flag restaurant and runs a whorehouse. Mack, who is a leader and mentor of the homeless, family-less, and jobless men in Cannery Row who live in Palace Flophouse.

They're standing low on the financial ladder but they survive. There's hopelessness all around but like life that too passes. There're no ambitions but life's still good for Mack and his group. They're not the most honest of chaps and do cause a little trouble here and there, but they almost always mean well. Like Doc says, “Look at them. There are your true philosophers. I think that Mack and the boys know everything that has ever happened in the world and possibly everything that will happen. I think they survive in this particular world better than other people. In a time when people tear themselves to pieces with ambition and nervousness and covetousness, they are relaxed. All of our so-called successful men are sick men, with bad stomachs, and bad souls, but Mack and the boys are healthy and curiously clean. They can do what they want. They can satisfy their appetites without calling them something else.”

And then there's Doc, who is generous, kind, and smartest man in Cannery Row. There's a certain wisdom in what he says and does. Whoever knows him is indebted to him and wants to do something nice for him. That's something which brings the whole town together. Steinbeck has summed up his character in these words, “It has always seemed strange to me...The things we admire in men, kindness and generosity, openness, honesty, understanding and feeling, are the concomitants of failure in our system. And those traits we detest, sharpness, greed, acquisitiveness, meanness, egotism and self-interest, are the traits of success. And while men admire the quality of the first they love the produce of the second.” 

Their life makes you smile, laugh and get upset over a bunch of lost frogs. It'll make you call a few friends over and throw a party, not party for a reason but part because you want to. 

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