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Tortilla Flat (Penguin Twentieth-Century Classics) Paperback – June 1, 1997

4.3 out of 5 stars 282 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews


John Steinbeck knew and understood America and Americans better than any other writer of the twentieth century. (The Dallas Morning News) A man whose work was equal to the vast social themes that drove him. (Don DeLillo)"

About the Author

John Steinbeck, born in Salinas, California, in 1902, grew up in a fertile agricultural valley, about twenty-five miles from the Pacific Coast. Both the valley and the coast would serve as settings for some of his best fiction. In 1919 he went to Stanford University, where he intermittently enrolled in literature and writing courses until he left in 1925 without taking a degree. During the next five years he supported himself as a laborer and journalist in New York City, all the time working on his first novel, Cup of Gold (1929).

After marriage and a move to Pacific Grove, he published two California books, The Pastures of Heaven (1932) and To a God Unknown (1933), and worked on short stories later collected in The Long Valley (1938). Popular success and financial security came only with Tortilla Flat (1935), stories about Monterey’s paisanos. A ceaseless experimenter throughout his career, Steinbeck changed courses regularly. Three powerful novels of the late 1930s focused on the California laboring class: In Dubious Battle (1936), Of Mice and Men (1937), and the book considered by many his finest, The Grapes of Wrath (1939). The Grapes of Wrath won both the National Book Award and the Pulitzer Prize in 1939.

Early in the 1940s, Steinbeck became a filmmaker with The Forgotten Village (1941) and a serious student of marine biology with Sea of Cortez (1941). He devoted his services to the war, writing Bombs Away (1942) and the controversial play-novelette The Moon is Down (1942).Cannery Row (1945), The Wayward Bus (1948), another experimental drama, Burning Bright(1950), and The Log from the Sea of Cortez (1951) preceded publication of the monumental East of Eden (1952), an ambitious saga of the Salinas Valley and his own family’s history.

The last decades of his life were spent in New York City and Sag Harbor with his third wife, with whom he traveled widely. Later books include Sweet Thursday (1954), The Short Reign of Pippin IV: A Fabrication (1957), Once There Was a War (1958), The Winter of Our Discontent (1961),Travels with Charley in Search of America (1962), America and Americans (1966), and the posthumously published Journal of a Novel: The East of Eden Letters (1969), Viva Zapata!(1975), The Acts of King Arthur and His Noble Knights (1976), and Working Days: The Journals of The Grapes of Wrath (1989).

Steinbeck received the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1962, and, in 1964, he was presented with the United States Medal of Freedom by President Lyndon B. Johnson. Steinbeck died in New York in 1968. Today, more than thirty years after his death, he remains one of America's greatest writers and cultural figures. 


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Product Details

  • Series: Penguin Twentieth-Century Classics
  • Paperback: 174 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Classics; Reprint edition (June 1, 1997)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0140187405
  • ISBN-13: 978-0140187403
  • Product Dimensions: 5.1 x 0.5 x 7.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (282 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #78,972 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By David A. Wend on September 19, 2002
Format: Mass Market Paperback
Tortilla Flat was an actual place in Carmel that John Steinbeck placed in Monterey. He took some stories about the paisanos (a mixture of Spanish, Indian, Mexican and Caucasian bloods) that lived in this marginal place consisting of shacks and, using the style of the Arthurian legends, spun these tales about Danny and his friends. They are meant to be humorous and serious at times, and the characters are larger than life. Certainly, no one could live as Danny, Pilon, Jesus Marie, Big Joe Portagee and the Pirate, consuming wine by the gallon, eating whatever they can steal and taking up and whoring with any woman they want, but this is hardly the point. The tales have an epic proportion to them like Malory's knights of yore but from the vantagepoint of the New World. This makes Tortilla Flat an entertaining and cleverly written book.
Danny is the central character of the book and the anchor that holds his group of friends together. They may be vagabonds but they have a moral code. An example: the Pirate lives with five dogs in a chicken coop. He takes some kindling wood into town each day and receives a quarter for it. He does not spend the money but hoards it. The paisanos estimate it to be $100 and think of stealing it, but are unable to follow the Pirate to where he has hidden the money. To get around this problem they invite the Pirate to live with him and try to discover the whereabouts of the money by suggesting it could be stolen quite easily. The Pirate eventually brings the money to the paisanos and discloses why he is saving it: the money is to fulfill a promise made to St. Francis to present a golden candlestick to a church in the saints honor. Why? Because the saint cured an illness one of his dogs had.
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I highly recommended this short novel but I would not do so for everyone. First of all, you must appreciate the novel being written in 1935 and the language spoken by the characters reflect that time period, rightly so. It only takes a short while to adapt and I found the story moving along at a nice pace as the personalities began to assume colorful portrayals.
Steinbeck presents a group of men, or paisanos living in Monterey, California after the first World War. These are poor men, not especially motivated to work for a living and have a thirsty, never ending longing for wine. They circle around Danny, the fortunate one in the group, who inherited 2 small houses from his grandfather. Having no steady job, it makes sense to him to "rent" to his buddies. His buddies don't have jobs or revenue, either, so the compensation that takes place is in the form of companionship and the collective sharing of all foods begged from the back doors of groceries and restaurants. The hawking of whatever goods they come upon that can be bartered for the prized gallon of wine serves to be their highest priority. While seemingly desperate and pathetic, these men go to no end to rationalize their predicaments, twist truths and events to be self-serving and ultimately rewarding their endeavors by securing enough wine to satisfy them all. This can be quite a challenge, and the lengths they go to to fulfill their thirsty desires are hilarious. That the reader finds love and goodness in these fellows is reflected by the skill of John Steinbeck's writing.
The book is a quick read and it was not long before I became fond and wiped away a few tears of sorrow and joy for each of them and the circumstances these men find themselves.
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This is a fable set in John Steinbeck's beloved Northern California. What it's all about are friendships and the dynamics of interpersonal dealings between immortal characters. Immortal in that every generation has their Pilons and Dannys, and of having things that you can hold in your own hand versus things that cannot ultimately be bought or sold. The appeal is due in part to the similarities in our own lives and in the lives of others. In every Steinbeck novel is a little gift of insight. This has many.
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". . . and the tides rise and fall as a great clepsydra."

The protagonists of TORTILLA FLAT are paisanos, and the word is descriptive. Evolving through Spanish from an Old French term meaning "peasant," the word connotes comrades or fellow countrymen. Indeed, Danny, Pilon, Big Joe Portagee, the Pirate, Jesus Maria, and the other personalities that one meets in this novel certainly qualify as comrades. Still, we must use the term advisedly, for their comradeship is not that of heroes, nor that of stolid laborers, nor even that of great criminal minds. No, it is the comradeship of simplicity, poverty, ignorance, despair, and, on occasion, of simple pleasure. It is the comradeship of survival through the inexorable passage of time.

The paisanos of TORTILLA FLAT survive without hope, without ambition, and without families, at least in the comfortable, middle-class definition of those terms. Yet, from their unquestioning viewpoints, they have all of these and more. Sometimes they hope for a little money to come their way, for without money one cannot buy wine and the joy that it brings. Their ambition may be to impress "Sweets" Ramirez to enjoy her favors for a night. And for a family, they have the all of the paisanos in Tortilla Flat above Monterey. In this light, the novel is both tragic and comic, tragic in that its souls are always questing, always in need of another bottle of wine or of a suit of clothes or of a bit of rent money or of a woman's company for an hour or so or of buried treasure in a haunted forest; comic in that a bottle of wine will bring joy, a two-bit piece (a quarter) constitutes wealth, a vacuum cleaner is a treasure in a house with no electricity.
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