Most times I venture myself into reading fairly long books, with many characters and complex plots. At one point I was asking myself: why don’t I read smaller books? Is it because I don’t hear much about them? Or maybe I just avoid buying them, thinking they’re not interesting enough? With these questions in mind, I picked up “The Pearl”, a 90-page book written by John Steinbeck.
The Pearl is a short novel (also called novella) that explores human nature and greed, “a haunting and timeless tale of the dangers of unexpected wealth” (Penguin.co.uk). Being first published in 1947, the story is considered to be one of Steinbeck’s most popular books and has been widely used in high school classes in the US.
In a nutshell
The touching novella tells the story of Kino, an Indian pearl diver, who was living together with his wife Juana and their newborn son Coyotito. One day, the very poor family was “blessed” when Kino discovered a very valuable and beautiful pearl, called by the others “the Pearl of the World”. The pearl was seen by Kino as a way of escaping from their simple and poor life, bringing social status and access to knowledge.
As a consequence of having the pearl, the whole family went through life-changing events that in the end led to the conclusion that wealth does not only bring potential happiness but also troubles in one’s life.
Songs as cultural element
I enjoyed the rapid pace of the story and the explicit way of portraying the characters with respect to the main element of the story – the pearl. Another interesting aspect was that internal “songs” were used as a metaphor for feelings and instinct. Kino was hearing different types of songs – songs of evil, songs of the family, and others – depending on the situation he was facing. These songs were always in the background of the story, anticipating the coming events.
Inspiration from Mexican folk tale
After I finished reading the book I found out that Steinbeck was inspired by a Mexican folk tale from La Paz – Baja California Sur (Mexico). He first began writing the story as a movie script, which the author turned into a short story called “The Pearl of the World”, published in an American magazine in 1945. Steinbeck expanded the story to the length of a novella and, two years later from the first publication, the novella was published under the name of “The Pearl”. The movie inspired by the first version was released as a co-promotion with the book itself.
To conclude, I think “The Pearl” by John Steinbeck is a good example to showcase that short books can offer valuable life lessons, despite the limited number of pages. What comes to my mind when I think about “The Pearl” is a Romanian quote saying “strong essences are held in small bottles“.
Book covers around the world
If you’re curious how the book’s covers are illustrated around the world, check out this post: Book covers around the world: The Pearl by John Steinbeck.
How about you, do you usually read short books? I am looking forward to hearing your recommendations!
‘Till next time … happy reading!