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Latest Reviews

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The ethical omnivore / Laura Dalrymple, Grant Hilliard.
Author: Dalrymple, Laura, author. -- Hilliard, Grant, author. -- Feather and Bone, issuing body.
Publisher: Crows Nest, New South Wales : Murdoch Books, 2020.
Review by: Loveday, Robert J. Mr.  on: 19/10/2020 4:21:53 PM
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I don't read recipe books. So what am I doing reviewing this one? Well this is more than a recipe book. It is the first 120 pages that caught my interest. How do we choose our food with an ethical eye on the way in which it is produced, as well as having consideration for the benefits, or otherwise, to our own health and appreciation of the joys of eating?

On the first page, the authors pose several questions
Where does my meat come from?
How did it live?
How did it die?
What impact did it have on climate change?
What do the labels mean?
How do I cook it?
How much should I eat?
Should I eat meat at all?

A lot to answer in 120 pages so don't expect a detailed, scientific analysis. But, as a quick guide, the authors do explain their underlying philosophy and answer most of the questions posed.

Learn the importance of a healthy living soil in raising nutritional and flavoursome plant and animal foods. Learn about regenerative farming. Become aware of the free-range deception. And there is more.

Dalrymple and Hilliard practice what they preach in their own butchery. They give a number of case studies of farmers so that you can see how their principles work in practice. There is a chapter on slaughtering methods. Regardless of how humanely we kill our domestic animals, it is still killing. So a little gruesome to read and picture it. There is also a chapter on the importance of butchers sourcing whole carcasses rather than the abattoirs pre-packaged cuts.

The authors admit that cost is an issue. If you wish to eat ethically you have to pay more. This act of following your principles may be a luxury only some can afford. Or is it a matter of merely reprioritising how you spend your money?

Then there is the matter of yield. Modern industrial farming is high yield. It is what has given us such cheap food. And with the world's population approaching seven-and-a-half billion and counting, can we afford to revert to lower yield small scale types of farming? Then again if industrial farming is unsustainable do we have a choice? While we may be able to continue blithely with the current method for the time being, it may be our grandchildren who have to pay. Industrial farming does have environmental and sustainability costs that are not reflected in the price on the shelf. These are instead passed on to other people and to other times.

Dalrymple and Hilliard are idealistic. They want butchers to educate their customers rather than merely meet their demands. But what if customers aren't convinced? The butcher will end up with lower sales and a lot of waste. And how can most retail butchers buy directly from farmers or individually-operated slaughter houses? The logistical hurdles for most butchers would be unassailable. An underlying theme is the ideal of maintaining a connection between the consumer and the producer. But in the large, complex, urbanised societies in which we live, this is nigh on impossible.

So I recommend you read this 120-page introduction. It is educational to learn the ideal. And maybe you can practice a little of it. Ideals are great, to have laudable goals, even if we can seldom fully attain them. Also, there are some exciting and unusual recipes using cuts seldom thought of - eg. goat, pigs' ears, heart - as well as more conventional meats. There are some novel mixes of ingredients too - for both mind and stomach. Bon appétit!
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Death in the East / Abir Mukherjee.
Author: Mukherjee, Abir., author.
Publisher: London : Harvill Secker, 2019.
Review by: Loveday, Robert J. Mr.  on: 12/10/2020 4:20:48 PM
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This is the fourth book in a crime series starring Detective Inspector Captain Sam Wyndham and his Indian Sergeant Surrender-not Banerjee. Although the stories in each novel are self-contained I recommend you begin with the first book A Rising Man so as to familiarise yourself with the backgrounds of the main characters. You should find my reviews for all Mukherjees novels with the library catalogue listings. The second and third novels are A Necessary Evil and Smoke and Ashes.

In Death in the East you get two stories for the price of one. In the previous three novels, the crime story was based solely in India circa 1920s. However, in this novel, a little over the first half of the story flashes back 17 years to 1905 London where Sam Wyndham is a raw recruit in the London Bobbies. He becomes involved in a murder case where, despite his efforts, the true culprit escapes and an otherwise innocent man hangs.

Jump forward to the present 1922. Sam has taken himself off to an ashram in Assam, a couple of hundred miles north of his base in Calcutta, for a cure for his opium addiction See, I told you you should read the earlier novels in the series first! As the second half of the novel opens, a connection is drawn between the ghosts of his past and his present corporeal world.

However, the death in the second part is unexpected. Is it natural justice? Do two wrongs make a right? As a police officer Sam must investigate this murder made to look like death from natural causes. He calls on help from his erstwhile offsider Sergeant Banerjee whose sense of national identity and self-respect has been heightened by his exposure to the independence movement while he was on leave - more complications!

The 1905 murder involves the classic, locked-room mystery. How can murder occur when the body is inside a room, the door locked from the inside and only one key also on the inside. The second death is an equal mystery. If electrocuted, how could this occur when the nearest electricity is 100 miles away And, seemingly, electricity was involved in 1905 too.

Again, as in the earlier three novels, justice ultimately is thwarted. This time, however, not in spite of Sam's efforts but because of them. Why would he let his morals slip? Or has he? Maybe there is a distinction between justice as defined by our legal system and the world of higher morality. Read this book and you too can be the judge.
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Upheaval : how nations cope with crisis and change / Jared Diamond.
Author: Diamond, Jared M., author.
Publisher: London, UK Allen Lane 2019. -- [London] : Allen Lane, an imprint of Penguin Books, 2019. -- ©2019
Review by: Loveday, Robert J. Mr.  on: 6/10/2020 1:31:08 PM
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Jared Diamond is the quintessential polymath. Although his day job is professor of Geography at UCLA, USA, he is also an anthropologist, ethnicist, linguist, historian, political commentator and economist. Oh! And I almost forgot: a damned good writer too. He is also well-known for some of his other books such as Guns, Germs and Steel; Collapse; The World Until Yesterday - all of which I have read and can also highly recommend.

The title of this book clearly states its theme. The reason I feel it is worth five out of five stars is the systematic, organised and consistent approach Diamond takes to his presentation of historical background and geo-political analysis.

In the first chapter Diamond describes how individuals deal with crises in their own lives. Next he presents how nations deal with national crises, pointing out the similarities and differences nations face vis-à-vis individuals. He then chooses 12 criteria against which to analyse each of the case studies he presents.

The six case studies he chooses involve Finland, Japan, Chile, Indonesia, Germany and Australia. Yes, that's right, us!. In some, the crisis was triggered by a single acute event such as the Russian invasion of Finland or Pinochet's military coup in Chile. Others, such as for Germany and Australia, were crises that unfolded over decades. But, in all, he uses the same systematic approach, presenting historical background, explaining the nature of the societies and cultures involved, then analysing the crisis and the nation's response in terms of the 12 criteria chosen in his first chapter. This last step allows the reader to compare each nation and case study.

In the last section of the book, Diamond does a little crystal ball gazing. He considers the looming challenges to be faced by Japan, USA and the world as a whole. Although he devotes two chapters to USA, I found it quite cogent, detecting parallels, similarities and hopefully some differences for us here in Australia. The chapters on USA and the world also exposed Diamond's own underlying philosophies, world view and values - all of which he adequately justifies. Even with this futurist analysis, he adheres to those 12 criteria he chose in the first chapter.

The only comment I can make that might be construed as a minor weakness is that there was sometimes an overlap or too close a relationship between some of the criteria he chose for analysis. For example, strong national identity, factor six, almost guarantees strong national core values, factor 11. But this overlap of characteristics is to be expected in the messy world of human and national behaviour. It's what make the fields of historical, social and political research and analysis such a challenge.

Read this book then explore other works by this marvellous polymath. You will be informed and certainly challenged to reflect.

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The white girl / Tony Birch.
Author: Birch, Tony, 1957-
Publisher: St Lucia, Qld : UQP, 2019. -- ©2019.
Review by: Loveday, Robert J. Mr.  on: 2/10/2020 1:53:33 PM
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Tony Birch is a Melbourne author of Aboriginal descent. The theme he has chosen for this novel is therefore apt. Although the stolen generation is the underlying theme, it flows as an undertone below the surface story of a grandmother trying to protect her granddaughter. The book is not a political statement or a scathing moral chastisement of the injustice Aboriginals suffered and are still suffering. But a low-level tension is maintained throughout. And, at least for me, it aroused anger and disgust at the treatment of a minority that was here tens of thousands of years before the majority that imposed such injustice.

The novel is set sometime around 1960 when Aboriginals, including those with part white heritage, were not considered citizens. That had to wait until a referendum in 1967. Until that time all Aboriginals were wards of the State. Many of the rights and freedoms we take for granted today were denied to Aboriginals.

Although the policy of taking Aboriginal children from their parents and placing them in missions or with white foster parents was no longer enforced with alacrity, it was still in place. A threat always existed. The fear that loved ones would be taken from parents, aunties and grandparents was palpable. Elders and carers had to be forever vigilant to avoid the attention of white officials and the loss of those young ones in their care.

Odette and her granddaughter Sissy live in a small rural community. Odette's daughter, Sissy's mother, shot through when Sissy was less than one year old. Odette has been caring for Sissy solely for over 12 years. They havent heard from Sissy's mother for a number of years and have little idea of where she is.

The township is typical of many small communities at that time. There are clear geographic and social divisions between the white and black residents. Each know their place. The whites varied in their attitudes from a familiarity and fairness allowable by social convention (some were childhood playmates until growing up put barriers in place) to downright sadistic racism and arrogance. Later, when Odette goes to the big city, she finds Aboriginals are more anonymous and the whites she encounters are more colour blind. This always strikes me as somewhat ironic. You would expect greater interracial understanding in small communities where contact is greater rather than in the big cities. Yet the opposite often seems to prevail.

Things are going quite well for Odette and Sissy, soon to turn 13. They have a secure income and providing they dont make waves, they are free to pursue life as they please. Then several challenges, several potential crises, present themselves at once. There is a troublesome white lad harassing Sissy. Odette discovers a threat to her own health. But her biggest concern is a new martinet policeman who arrives to replace the easy-going local officer who had been there for years. The new man is obsessed with his authority and self-importance. He is determined to exercise it. He is engineering to keep a closer eye on those wards of State under his jurisdiction.

The main plotline follows Odette's efforts to protect Sissy and their future together. This creates sufficient tension in itself but a couple of subplots also raised my ire. As I approached the epilogue, my impatience grew to discover whether this novel would have a happy or sad ending.

Only one minor criticism: the English of the dialogue was too perfect. I felt an English spoken in small towns, reflected in the spelling of direct speech, would have added authenticity. The too-perfect English spoken detracted from the milieu of the setting.

Tony Birch was shortlisted for a Miles Franklin. He has also won a couple of other literary awards. I intend to read another of his novels held in the library Ghost River. Stay tuned.
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The wizard of the Nile : the hunt for Africa's most wanted / Matthew Green.
Author: Green, Matthew.
Publisher: London : Portobello, 2008.
Review by: Loveday, Robert J. Mr.  on: 14/09/2020 4:23:03 PM
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In the 19th century, Africa was often referred to as The Dark Continent. This story truly has some dark elements. Prior to the carving up of Africa between the European imperialist powers, there was tribal warfare in Africa. During the age of empire, the European overlords maintained a form of peace, albeit often brutally. However, when the Europeans left and the new independent nations of Africa were established within arbitrary boundaries, the old tribal rivalries re-emerged. For the past 50 years, and continuing into the present, insurgencies, rebellions and military coups persist.

This book centres on Uganda and the author's attempt to interview the mysterious, elusive, ruthless, maniacal, extremist, Christian rebel Joseph Kony. Kony rose to prominence in the mid-1980s to oppose the newly installed government of Museveni. Museveni himself had come to power by military force overthrowing the incumbent government and military of Obote. Kony belongs to the northern Acholi tribe which was being persecuted by Museveni and his southern tribe. At the time of writing in 2008, Kony had been waging his war for over 20 years.

This was a brutal war. Kony himself often targeted his own people, those he suspected of being disloyal to him. Boys were abducted to become child soldiers, girl were abducted as wives for his commanders, those suspected of betrayal were mutilated - having their hands, lips and ears removed - and villages were burnt to the ground. The government forces, to reduce local support for Kony, corralled villagers into concentration-style camps.

But this story is about more than just Uganda. It encompasses the whole of central Africa, including neighbouring Congo, and especially Sudan whose government, fighting its own civil war, supported and gave refuge to Kony when he experienced tough times. In the first half of the book, the author also goes back in history to the colonial days and the role of Ugandans in the two world wars. Learn how the colonial administrations and missionaries contributed to the mess that is Africa today.

There are interviews with some of Kony's former commanders as well as victims. Green also expounds upon the ambivalent nature of aid programs and how they can perpetuate conflict.

A driving force in the conflict is the syncretic mix of Christianity, pre-Christian animism, superstition, mysticism and the spirit world. I could not help but be amazed at how such unrealistic and irrational belief can motivate such suicidal devotion and fanaticism. The credulity of the people in their beliefs and faith in traditional healers (witch doctors) in this day and age is an eye opener.

The pace of the story slowed in the second half of the book. I must admit that I skipped a few chapters towards the end. I became impatient with the author's endless futile attempts to have a rendezvous with Kony and the repeated failed attempts of brokers to arrange peace talks. It just became more and more of the same.

Did Green finally meet Kony? Did Kony and his LRA Lords Resistance Army finally broker a peace deal with Museveni's government? What has been Kony's fate? Maybe I should let you read this book to find out. As you do you will learn much about this region of central Africa, its history, its tribes, its cultures and its political conflicts.

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Smoke and ashes / Abir Mukherjee.
Author: Mukherjee, Abir, author.
Publisher: London : Harvill Secker, 2018. -- �2018.
Review by: Loveday, Robert J. Mr.  on: 14/09/2020 4:20:13 PM
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This is the third Captain Sam Wyndham detective novel in a series of four written by Abir Mukherjee. They are set in India (Calcutta mainly) between 1919 and 1922. This is a shaky political period with the British Raj facing increasing challenge from Indians pushing for independence. Although the stories in each novel are separate and fully self-contained within each book, I recommend you read the first of the series A Rising Man first. This way you will be able to fully appreciate the role and personality of each of the main characters as they are more fully developed in future novels. The second novel is A Necessary Evil and the forth Death in the East.

Abir Mukherjee, of Indian heritage, actually grew up in Scotland and now lives in London. However, he seems to have researched the history of his forebears' homeland well and portrays its socio-cultural, political and historical setting well.

This story blends a visit by the Crown Prince Edward the future Edward VIII with protests organised by Ghandi's chief follower in Calcutta (both historically accurate). A third element is the secret experiments conducted by the British military which was developing more deadly versions of poison gas. Mukherjee used literary licence to bring this historical fact a decade early to include it in the plot. Also woven more intricately into the plot is Sam Wyndham's opium addiction.

The story gets off to a flying start with Sam escaping an opium den during a surprise police raid. While fleeing, he stumbles across a mutilated dead body. Leaving this mystery in the air, the pace slows for the next several chapters and shifts to the political scene with a focus on a family friend of his intrepid sergeant Surrender-not Banerjee. Das is Ghandi's chief lieutenant in Calcutta and the main agitator whipping up anti-British protests. But then after half-a-dozen chapters the story comes back to the crime and slowly threads all the main elements mentioned above together.

There is plenty of action and some tense moments. Like all good crime novels, clues are dripped in, allowing the reader to develop theories and test hypotheses alongside Detective Inspector Wyndham and Sergeant Banerjee. Rivalry between security services, in this case the Imperial Police Force and Military Intelligence, is also common in the crime genre and readers will not be disappointed.

Unlike the previous two novels, there is no twist in the tail where the true villain, the true mastermind, when unmasked, is a finale surprise. However, this is replaced with a building of tension in a race against time and a very clever perpetrator as the story approaches a conclusion.

In the first two novels, Sam was frustrated in being unable to bring about a complete serving of justice due to the fact that those involved were too powerful to touch. This time it is not so much incomplete justice but a sense of sympathy the reader develops for the murderer. While his grief is justified, and his targets deserve to answer for their earlier actions, his methods for vengeance cannot be condoned. You may agree or not. Read the novel and develop your own moral stance.

Oh! And there is a small surprise in the last chapter. But again you will have to read the book to discover this too.
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A necessary evil / Abir Mukherjee.
Author: Mukherjee, Abir, author.
Publisher: London Harvill Secker, 2017. -- �2017
Review by: Loveday, Robert J. Mr.  on: 7/09/2020 4:21:12 PM
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This is the second novel in a series of four with the same protagonists. The four in order of the time of setting are A Rising Man, A Necessary Evil, Smoke and Ashes and Death in the East. While the crime stories in each novel are fully self-contained and the novels can be read in any order, it pays to read them chronologically just to appreciate the developments in the lives of the protagonists as time passes.

The setting is British India circa 1920. The two chief characters are an Englishman Detective Inspector Captain Sam Wyndham and his offsider native Indian Sergeant Surrender-not Banerjee. If you want to know more about these characters read my review attached to the first novel A Rising Man.

The bonus of reading novels set in different eras and cultures/countries is the unintentional education you receive while being entertained. The period in question could be considered the height of the British Raj even though there was a growing demand for self-government from Indians. Yet according to the author there were more than 500 semi-autonomous princely states covering two-fifths of the country. Some must have been tiny but some were also very wealthy as was the one featured in the novel. The little state of Sambalpore was awash with money from its diamond mines.

The Viceroy was trying to establish a Chamber of Princes as a sop to those pushing for independence. It was probably mere window-dressing as it would have had no legislative power and its advice even if given would have been easily ignored. The princes themselves were often more British than the British. However the Viceroy was pushing ahead with this sham and 20 key princes had congregated in Calcutta to enter into negotiations.

Sam and Banerjee had been ordered to attend a photo shoot in part because of Banerjee's personal friendship with the Crown Prince of Sambalpore. However, in the first chapter the Crown Prince is assassinated in their presence. Hence the investigation commences with Sam and Banerjee pursuing the trail of the perpetrator (and his/her motive) to the state of Sambalpore itself.

A number of suspects and several theories as to motive arise in the course of their investigation. Sam pursues the truth. However, even if he finds it, will he be able to translate it to justice. When dealing with society's elite, powerful and influential, justice is sometimes hard to achieve. I am not going to tell you how the novel ends. You will have to read the novel yourself and journey with Sam - share the hurdles and frustrations he encounters and experience the murky world of intrigue and corruption in British India.

The setting is well portrayed, the characters believable and apposite, the plot sprinkled with suspense and thrill, the criminal investigation containing suitable twists and mental gymnastics. If you are a crime or history buff, you will not be disappointed.
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Mismatch : how our Stone Age brain deceives us every day (and what we can do about it) / Ronald Giphart and Mark van Vugt ; translated from the Dutch by Suzanne Heukensfeldt Jansen.
Author: Giphart, Ronald, 1965-, author. -- Van Vugt, Mark, 1967-, author. -- Heukensfeldt Jansen, Suzanne, translator.
Publisher: London : Robinson, 2018. -- 2018.
Review by: Loveday, Robert J. Mr.  on: 31/08/2020 4:28:08 PM
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The lengthy subtitle to this book, How our stone age brain deceives us every day and what we can do about it, encapsulates its contents in a nutshell.

This is a highly readable book. The research and scientific data come from one of the authors, Mark van Vugt, a professor of evolutionary work and organisational psychology at a university in Amsterdam. Some non-fiction books written by academics are leaden, bogging down in barely comprehensible and overly lengthy detail. However this academic teamed up with a novelist, Ronald Giphart, who adds a little humour and writes to the layman. Perhaps more academics should take a note from this couples book when presenting their information to the public.

The premise of this book is that we evolved to lead a hunter-gatherer lifestyle in small tribes or clans of extended families numbering a few dozen to a maximum of 150. Homo sapiens have spent most of our existence, the last 150,000 years or so, in this state. It is only after the discovery of agriculture and establishment of sedentary settlements, about 10,000 years ago, that this has changed. This change led to the growth of towns, cities and nations and an increasing complexity in our societies.

The authors seem to assume that many of our hunter-gatherer behaviours, modes of thinking and physiology have evolved biologically, become fixed in our genes. This may be true for our physiology. The evolution of genes being slow, we are still stuck with bodies suited to a pre-agricultural lifestyle leading to a mismatch in a modern setting. However, many of our behaviours and modes of thinking are influenced by culture, that is memes, and these cultural memes can change rapidly according to the demands of the natural and social environments in which we find ourselves. What the authors see as mismatches may not be mismatches at all but actually more recent, albeit sometimes less than efficacious, cultural and psychological adaptions to modernity.

This critique off my chest, I have to say that their hypotheses give much food for thought. The book is jam-packed with information about human society, culture, behaviour and psychology. So full, actually, that it was sometimes hard to identify just what the mismatch was that the authors were targeting. Topics tackled include reproduction, sex, love, child raising, sleep, diet, depression and suicide, work, religion, environmental degradation, the media, the internet and pornography, and war. The subject matter is logically organised, having a chapter dedicated to each topic.

The authors are not content just to present their theory of mismatch and provide numerous examples of it. They also, at the end of each chapter, offer suggestions as to how individuals and nations could redress the mismatch and achieve some sort of solution or rematching again. I must say that their solutions somewhat resemble a brainstorming session. Some are impractical or simply unfeasible given the entrenched institutionalisation and acculturation in our present societies. They aim high, even if their idealism may be slightly out of reach.

Read this book to discover just how different our lives have become since we left the pre-agricultural nomadic lifestyles on savannahs and in open forests. Consider the physical, psychological and cultural mismatches that may have occurred. And, even if you disagree that there is a mismatch, just read it for the treasure chest of physiological, behavioural and societal information it provides.
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There is a God : how the world's most notorious atheist changed his mind / Antony Flew ; with Roy Abraham Varghese.
Author: Flew, Antony, 1923- -- Varghese, Roy Abraham.
Publisher: San Francisco : HarperOne, 2007.
Review by: wcove12  on: 27/08/2020 9:01:56 AM
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The main thrust of this book is that the author has used the Laws of Nature to explain that a God or supreme Power exists. There are many other philosophical arguments but in my opinion the author cannot explain how life came to be from non-life. That is the jump from rocks water and gases... to a living cell with DNA. He suggests that this is not explainable through evolution theory. Darwin's theory can be accepted by some but only from the point where life existed. The evolution theory cannot explain how a rock turns into an amoeba.
So, based on this, the author contends along with many peers, that a supreme intelligent mind was present. Therefore God exists.
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The pearl / John Steinbeck ; with an introduction by Linda Wagner-Martin ; drawings by José Clemente Orozco.
Author: Steinbeck, John, 1902-1968. -- Wagner-Martin, Linda. -- Orozco, Jose Clemente.
Publisher: London : Penguin, 2000.
Review by: Loveday, Robert J. Mr.  on: 26/08/2020 12:15:23 PM
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Have you ever dreamed of what you would do if you won 10 million dollars? More to the point have you ever considered how it would change your lifestyle, your values and behaviour, your relationships with others? And what about others? Regardless of your efforts to not change, others may view you differently - something you would have little control over. This is the central theme of this novella.

Kino, a poor Mexican fisherman, finds an enormous pearl of great value. Although not crazed by his potential wealth, he is determined to give his son what he, and the rest of his fellow villagers, could never afford - an education. However, others are equally determined that he should not keep the pearl.

Kino's wife Juana, very early regards the pearl as evil and foresees the misfortune it will bring. It is only after several disasters that Kino realises the costs of pursuing his dreams.

Steinbeck wrote this book in the mid-1940s. Since his literary success began in the mid-1930s he had gained some wealth and fame. However, he had also suffered some criticism for his left-wing portrayal of the plight of the underclasses. As a consequence, Steinbeck himself was on a personal quest trying to come to terms with what wealth meant and what an obsession with wealth could do to a community.

Steinbeck had an intimate knowledge of Mexican Americans having shared his youth with them. This background and his later experiences in Mexico made him well qualified to portray the Mexican peasantry who feature in this novella. They are a simple folk pursuing simple needs but, nonetheless, have the same complexity of emotions and motivations as all of humanity regardless of class or creed. Steinbeck portrays his characters with depth and describes the setting vividly.

This novella is only 90 pages in length. A dedicated reader would have no trouble in polishing it off in a single session. The quality of writing is such that this would not be unlikely.
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