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The Moon is Down - John Steinbeck

A collection of one hundred and odd pages of printed words. Ownership of which, in wartime Italy at least, was punishable by death.

In 1940 John Steinbeck was enjoying the wave of recognition and an ever expanding bank account due to the huge success in the last decade of some of his major written works. This also brought with it access to powerful and influential people. After the French has signed the armistice with the Nazis, Steinbeck was one of a group who urged to President Eisenhower that the war in Europe should not be ignored by the U.S.

JS at the time was in cahoots with a number of staff at the forerunner organization to the C.I.A.. Before the shock of Pearl Harbour, Steinbeck was concerned about the Nazi’s grip on Europe and was working on what could be called propaganda. But this was not in the more recognised format of a leaflet or a poster. This was a novel.

The setting for the Moon is Down is a small town in Northern Europe (later on it came to light that it was Norway). It tells the tale of a peaceful population who one morning find their town to have been occupied by an invading army (even though it is apparent from the text, the word “German” never appears). The head men on each side are Colonel Lanser and the head of the town Mayor Orden. What Steinbeck achieved with TMID was a huge boost in self belief for the everyday people involved in a war. This was a story that celebrated human beings in how it detailed that no matter who the aggressor, as long as men and women are capable of free thinking they will always be stronger than what Steinbeck refers to as “the herd” (as herds go the Nazis were, I think we will all agree, a pretty despicable bunch). Whoever edited this book did a damn fine job. In only a few pages we get excellent dialogue from both aggressors and occupiers, a great description of a snow blasted town who’s inhabitants are on the emotional edge, and a screaming indictment on anybody or anything that wants to oppress free movement and liberty.

Copies of the book were smuggled into occupied Europe and were then painstakingly translated by various underground movements across the continent and distributed with stealth to as many citizens as possible. As mentioned earlier, if found with a copy of this book depending on which country you lived in you could be, amongst other things, killed or sent east to the labor camps.  After the war JS received many honors and awards from countries like Norway and Denmark for what they saw as such a unifying book for their respective citizens. This is a great novel that reiterates the many great aspects of human nature and basic morality.

Reviewers note: The bits of history of the novel I have included in this review are not from my own lengthy research (as if) but paraphrased from the excellent introduction to the book by Donald Coers. A scholar of Steinbeck who’s other work on the author may be worth a look for any Steinbeck fans.

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