I just finished reading John Steinbeck’s book, The Moon Is Down. I wanted to find something to read over vacation. So I was browsing through my library’s electronic resources and saw a different Steinbeck book featured (which I’d already read). It reminded me, though, that he is one of my favorite authors. And it turned out that this was one of the few books of his that was available for download. So I checked it out, and I found it enjoyable enough that I finished it in about three days.
The book was originally written as a propaganda piece for the Allied Forces in the Second World War. Steinbeck had made something of a name for himself in the decade before the war, so when this book appeared in the Nazi-occupied territories of Europe they caught the eye of his fans. People translated the book into Norwegian, Danish, Dutch, French, and other languages. And then they mimeographed copies to be distributed. It became very widely read and perhaps a spark of inspiration for many in the Resistance.
I was fascinated to see that the book didn’t provide any specific geographical information about the conquerors or the conquered. It was not explicitly about, say, Germans and Norwegians. Even so, the book had a strong sense of setting. The language of the book was also very sparse — almost minimalist — but that actually fit the story very well. And it kept the book short. Both of these factors — the vague setting and the short, simple, easily-translated wording — would have been helpful for propaganda purposes. But they actually worked on the story-telling level, too!
In a short space, Steinbeck develops some interesting characters — or at least sketches of characters. Both the conquerors and the conquered are portrayed in sympathetic ways. It’s not heavy-handed “Good Guys” versus “Bad Guys” kind of stuff. Both sides are believable. And I felt particularly sympathetic towards Mayor Orden and Colonel Lanser, the leaders of the two (opposing) sides. The story does a good job of describing the hopelessness of war and the forces at work that are far beyond any given individual on any given side.
I don’t know if The Moon Is Down was especially profound in its message, certainly not multi-layered like a lot of my favorite novels. But it was still interesting to read, and I’m glad that I gave it a try.