I must admit that my reading this year has been all over the place - some philosophical works, some Balzac, some classics, some indie titles, some surrealism - so when I reached for this unknown-to-me Steinbeck, I had no idea whether I was going to like it or not.
But alas, it is Steinbeck.
Despite being rather short, this book delivers much food for thought. Looking at the GR database, many readers have labeled this book as propaganda (apparently, it was written as such). Yet, I cannot label it the same way and maintain clean conscience. This little book is so much more than propaganda. In fact, it reminds me a little of my all-time favorite war story - Pins and Needles by Boris Vian.
Why? Well, for starters, neither one is about a war. They both use war as a backdrop to a larger drama - the drama of human beings and their inability to coexist together in peace. They both center on the uselessness of war, on the idiocy of following out-of-touch leaders, of the blindness of following orders, and of the struggle to reconcile with the inutility of it all.
Where Vian centered on a single soldier as a part of the machine, Steinbeck centers not on the machine itself, but rather on the players (the wheels) that make the machine turn. He focuses equally on the conquerors and the conquered, and their interactions. The details about the location are so minimal that the location itself becomes almost impertinent. And isn't that true in a real war, after all? Wars are not about places; they are about victories and losses. And as Steinbeck points out, the conquerors often win battles, but the conquered win wars, because they are not following a leader or an agenda. They are in it for themselves.
Unlike the more contemporary books I read recently, The Moon is Down is written almost entirely as a dialogue between the various parties to the story. And here is where Steinbeck shines - in the dialogue, which advances the story without being boring, overdone, or cliched. We have friends talking, enemies talking, and through their exchanges we not only see the progress of the war itself, but also the progress of the change which is taking place inside the oppressed.
This is a wonderful story about two men - one conquered and one conqueror. One elected and one appointed. They both know the nonsense of it all, and they both agree on it, yet both have to follow their duty as required by their office.
An excellent read.