“[H]e had been in Belgium and France twenty years before and he tried not to think what he knew–that war is treachery and hatred, the muddling of incompetent generals, the torture and killing and sickness and tiredness, until at last it is over and nothing has changed except for new weariness and new hatreds…This one will be different, he said to himself fifty times a day…” John Steinbeck, THE MOON IS DOWN
Long stretches are running between book recommendations on this site. It’s not because I haven’t been reading; on the contrary, I am devouring endless books, but it’s all research for my work in progress. The time is nearing when I’ll reveal more, but for now I can only say I stumbled across mention of THE MOON IS DOWN (which I’d never before heard of) when seeking books on the psychology of those in war.
THE MOON IS DOWN, by John Steinbeck, was written as war propaganda. He was involved in WWII intelligence organizations, and wanted to know what he could do to help. He was asked to do what he did well: to write. What emerged is this spare, fine, character study of both the conquerors and the conquered in an invaded town. Steinbeck never names it, but one can assume it’s somewhere in France, taken by the Nazis.
Over a short span of time, Steinbeck brilliantly captures the subtle transition of the conquerors’ confident mentality to one of suspicion and cruelty, while showing the cracks even small acts of resistance infuse into their foundation. These small acts inspire larger and–when the time comes for great sacrifice–the blood of the martyrs portents the victory of good over evil.
While many praised his novella, I was interested to find out Steinbeck faced severe backlash for portraying the Germans as complex men rather than “boot-clicking Hun” machines. Though he defended his work he was bruised by the criticism, and the book quietly fell to the bottom of the Steinbeck stacks, where it continues to gather dust.
But THE MOON IS DOWN certainly served to help the resistance effort in Europe. Clandestine presses from Denmark to France to Italy got ahold of it, printed and distributed it, and used the money to fund resistance efforts. It was a great psychological boon to those who read it seeking courage in the face of terror.
THE MOON IS DOWN can be read in a single sitting and packs an emotional punch. It’s clear and precise, and can be enjoyed by readers of all genres. One need not be a Steinbeck scholar or aficionado of historical fiction to appreciate it. Highly recommended.