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Tortilla Flat (Penguin Twentieth-century Classics) Paperback – June 1, 1997
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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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Like Mallory’s story of King Arthur and the knights of the round table, Tortilla Flat has its heroes, quests, damsels, and holy grail. That is the original recipe. Add beans, paisanos, “lively” women, and a whole lot of wine. Simmer and reduce. The result is a rich, yet simple and savory tale; literary comfort food for those who have visited this land before through Steinbeck’s prose. Those that long for it.
Who knew that this one valley in California would be the well to spring forth the tragic drama of the ‘Grapes of Wrath’, the biblical struggle of ‘East of Eden’, the love and friendship of ‘Cannery Row’, the Arthurian romance of ‘Tortilla’ and…well, the man himself.
And no, I am not putting the ‘cart before the horse’. These tales, these elemental forces were there long before Steinbeck allowed his artistic sensibilities to be threaded by them. And will continue to roam this land, perhaps in different finery, but eternal all the same.
I enjoyed the entire novella, but I felt it started somewhat slowly. However, the author effectively lays the groundwork for the last two chapters and I enjoyed the last two chapters as much as any literature that I have read.
In the event that it matters to a reader, I both read the novella and listened to it simultaneously on an audiobook, narrated by John McDonough. The narration was particularly effective and greatly added to my reading experience.
As far as John Steinbeck, thus far, I have read "The Grapes of Wrath", "The Red Pony", "Of Mice And Men" and now "Tortilla Flat". I like them all pretty much the same. However there are moments of that I really enjoy. I felt this story lagged at times. But, as I said, I particularly enjoyed the last two chapters of this novella and am really glad I stayed with the story. Thank You...
The story cycle in Tortilla Flats centers around a mostly hapless, selfish, drunken, thieving, and occasionally noble group of paisano's in the unpaved and occasionally patrolled outer reaches of Monterrey, California in the years after World War I. For those looking to charge racial stereotypes; the central characters include Danny, Pilon, Jesus Marie, Big Joe Portagee and the Pirate. No one is clearly identified with any one racial type and we are told these are a mix of Native Americans, Hispanics, Italians, Anglos and combinations thereof. Mostly what our main characters have in common is an over fondness for wine and a disinterest in work or anything that looks like achieving the American dream. The novel itself is early Steinbeck and may be considered as something of an experiment in storytelling that he will perfect in Cannery Row and Sweet Thursday.
In choosing to tell us the stories of this barely lovable group of schemers and drinkers, Steinbeck is working an aspect common in many cultures from the misdeeds of the Hopi Mud Head Kachinas to the antics of the Three Stooges. We can identify with this ignoble band of Brothers in part because they allow us to be naughty at one remove and because we can identify with people who are hapless without being evil.
Tortilla Flats is not so much a novel as a cycle of short stories built around the misadventures, sacred superstitions, and wine based brotherhood of its central characters. Around the core characters we have a variety of equally comedic bumbler's including: women of flexible virtue, barter-based wine bootleggers and at least one jailer who qualifies for the job by being its most frequent prisoners - until her forgets he is the jailor and leads an escape. None of these people or events is meant to be taken seriously. Steinbeck has invited us to savor complex schemes as designed by simple folk whose only real loyalty is to each other and when pressed their immediate community.
My initial reaction to Steinbeck's Tortilla Flats was negative. Initially I did not like any of the paisanos. Once I realized this was all intended as humor and that it was part of a larger literary tradition I came to enjoy the efforts of these characters to provide for each other without surrendering to their own weaknesses. My change of heart could not have happened except for the simple yet skillful use of language that ultimately seduced me and made me into being a fan of this book.
― John Steinbeck, Tortilla Flat
Most recent customer reviews
This is the story of a bunch of winos whose major claim to fame--or infamy--is seeing how many bottles...Read more
Ok but nothing spectacular
Some of Steinbeck other novels are better