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on 18 March 2003
I don't know how anyone could read this book and not give it a five star rating. The true test for me of a "great book" is one that stays with me -- one I can't stop thinking about long after I've finished. I read this book for the second time in my life a month ago (first time was in high school many years ago), and I'm still haunted by the suffering endured by the Joad family. The interesting thing is that Steinbeck wrote this book in 1939 at the height of the injustices being fraught upon the migrant workers in California. I'm sure it wasn't popular then as it brought to the forefront the corruption of some powerful people in America. It also spoke to the conscience of every American which eventually led to political reform in California. After reading this book, I did some research into Steinbeck's motivation and learned that he was haunted by the plight of California's migrant workers to the point of obsession. To fuel his anger, he would visit the migrant camps each day full of their dirt, disease and hungry people and then return home to write about those people responsible for these conditions -- people he considered to be murderers.
Steinbeck concentrated on the circumstances of one family, The Joads, tenant farmers in Oklahoma until they were forced out by the larger companies who wanted their land back. With dreams of luscious grapes and peaches in abundance waiting to be picked, they loaded up their belongings and began their journey on Route 66 headed for Bakersfield, California. They began their trip with a bevy of colorful characters led by Ma and Pa Joad. It's amazing how much power Steinbeck gave to Ma Joad -- years before women had any right to a voice. Unfortunately, just as the Joads were heading out, so were thousands upon thousands of other families. This would ultimately lead to supply and demand. There would be too many workers for the few jobs available and, consequently, people would be agreeing to work for peanuts just to be able to feed their families.
Steinbeck's writing is astounding as the unrest of the migrants builds to a crescendo and just as the dust has risen in Oklahoma, so will the voices of the poor migrant workers. Steinbeck says, "In the eyes of the hungry, there is a growing wrath. In the souls of the people, the grapes of wrath are growing heavy." It is just a matter of time before their wrath is unleashed and you can feel it in every page you turn. He says that, "Our people are good people; our people are kind people. Pray God some day kind people won't all be poor. Pray God someday a kid can eat." I don't know how you can read some of his words and not get teary eyed. But sixty years have passed since the writing of this book and there are still migrant stories to be told and kids who have no food to eat yet sadly the world continues despite its injustices.
I won't kid you into believing that this is an easy book to read. The first 150 pages are so slow going that I almost had to put it down. But I kept on going just as the Joad's kept on going and I'm certainly glad I did. We could all take a lesson from their quest for survival and their quest just to be able to eat the next day. Their determination, in light of all the obstacles they had to face, is truly a lesson to be learned. You feel a sense of accomplishment after reading a book like this -- I know I did.
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on 26 August 2001
This is one of my alltime favourite books, it combines very belivable and enjoyable charachters with a serious and tragic theme. It follows the fortunes of the Joad family as they migrate West in search of a better life. It also explores the rapid commercialisation of the West during the 20's as well as people like the Joads whom it left behind. Steinbeck breathes life into this case example family and I found myself with several favourite charachters, something I have not found in a book for a long time. Despite the poverty and sad theme of the book the strength of human spirit and hope emerges throughout the book. We can and should take lessons from this book, and the crude new greedy culture that is emerging during this novel is now ever too aparent in our society too. The introduction by Brad Leithauser is helpful for understanding the themes and background of the book, but I would not class it as esssential and it could of been explained in much more detail. If you enjoyed 'Of Mice and Men' you will love this, it is definitely Steinbecks masterpiece. All in all it is a very rewarding and un-put-downable book and I would recommend this book to everyone.
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Who am I to review one of the greatest literary works of all time? Could I possibly give this book anything less than the maximum rating it so richly deserves? Should I even commence? Those were just some of my private thoughts as I finally put down a copy of this book - read. This is the book which stirred the American conscience, caused political reform and brought about change when first published in 1939. This is the book which described how families were starving to death because of corruption. This is John Steinbeck at his exceptional best. For those people who never got around to reading this engaging and absorbing account of the Joad family, may I suggest you actually purchase a copy (any copy!) and finally read it.

Today the world is either in recession or emerging from the dark grip of this latest financial catastrophe. Whilst we may live in a time when millions of families are no longer allowed to starve to death - well, not in the developed world at any rate, I earnestly believe there are lessons to be learned from this book about the rich and powerful who care not for their fellow man but only for personal gain. More importantly, those lessons are as relevant today as they were in 1939.

Another similarity also failed to escape my notice; In this book we see how US police and other officials use their positions of authority to threaten and even blackmail the many thousands of American migrants who were simply looking for work in order to feed hungry mouths. These people had not arrived from any foreign country and were not even black - something which would have made their persecution much easier. No!, these ordinary white American folk were honest farmers who had been forcibly evicted from their homes and the land they had worked for generations. Seventy years on, here in the UK, we are besieged by TV programmes depicting our different police forces undertaking their various duties around the country. Yet more cheaply produced "reality" television! Significantly, however, I have occasionally noticed how some police officers deliberately provoke a hostile situation where none exists. Whilst not on the scale portrayed in this outstanding work, it is interesting that I should recognise that underlying attitude of arrogant superiority.

Whilst some may find the book slow going at the start, Steinbeck quickly gathers in those loose strands until they suddenly pull together to assume a story, reveal a mental photograph and produce a relevance into which the reader becomes fully immersed. I promptly learned local words and understood the dialect in which they were spoken as the Joad story unfolded. I could hear those southern accents as hardships are endured and explained through the actions of those who lived them. This was the organised, legalised daylight robbery and exploitation of the poor by the rich who were actively supported by the law enforcement agencies. A week's work for 1,000 fruit pickers paying 50 cents an hour is advertised to 3,000 hungry people who then pass on the message. Consequently, 5,000 starving workers arrive in search of that employment. With so much competition, the rate is lowered to 30 cents - take it or leave it! It was a deliberate ploy repeated time after time. Anyone attempting to organise his fellow workers is photographed, black-listed and branded a communist. Now feed that to your children. Then the banks insist the farmers reduced the rate to 25 cents and any landowner who questions that decision is swiftly reminded of his own vulnerability as a mortgagee! In short, either you pay them 25 cents or you join them! My own immediate reaction was to recognise a similarity between then and now - specifically with those modern banking practises which preyed on the sub-prime market. Anyone who cared to consider precisely what "sub-prime" meant, knew it was a policy destined to fail. And fail it did in spectacular fashion - and yet, the fat cat bankers still draw bonuses based on "personal performance" and not on their company's overall profit or loss...

I note from some of the comments appended to certain editions of this book, that various issues have been produced in which, apparently, Steinbeck's prose are changed to make the work an easier read. Please don't take the easy option, take the version written as it was intended to be read - i.e. the version written by Steinbeck. If not, you cannot claim to have read this book at all - instead you have the equivalent of, say, a Romeo and Juliet story - set in Manhattan in the 21st Century - and there are plenty of those...

In closing, I would urge anyone (indeed everyone) who has not already read an original version of this book, to go out and buy a copy - any old copy, and then simply read it. Having done that, you too will draw parallels with our modern age and understand what I mean. You will also be richer for having done so - as would those fat cats who, unfortunately, will probably never bother. Having finally finished reading this outstanding work, I wonder how many of you will still be wondering whatever happened to that perfectly matched pair of Bays! I do...

NM
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on 14 July 2005
I was seriously contemplating 5 stars for this book, but then as I got toward the end of it I was reminded how tough a book this can be to read at times. I don't mean it's full of difficult long words, or that the paragraph structure is such that the reader becomes dazed and confused. What I mean is that the subject matter can really grind you down, but that is what makes the book so impressive.
The Grapes of Wrath follows a migrant farm working family from the 1930's who, during the great depression, are forced to leave their home and their livelihood to seek a future in California. This in essence is the thread of the story but what the Grapes of Wrath does is it branches off to give a number of sub-stories which really give the reader a sense of what life was like for these migrant workers.
The book in interspliced with a number social commentaries on this time, which show how badly these people were thought of, and also shows how normal "god fearing" people can turn on their own people, scared that these outsiders will ruin their way of life. These moments though do not constitute the whole book and there are a variety of other stories (purely fictional) around the family and how they bond together, yet break apart as the journey slowly wears them down.
The greatness of the book is the timelessness of it. Steinbeck shows how people will turn on each other with the right provocation. In Grapes of Wrath it's the wealthy Californians, we can see this mimicked to a point in peoples attitudes to modern day asylum seekers. People fear what they don't understand and what they are scared of they attack.
A brilliantly written book but really does need perseverance.
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VINE VOICEon 11 January 2003
At first when I started out, wasn't too sure I would want to continue. This book is written in local dialect which I thought would be tedious but I was in for a surprise for it was not. After a while I began to love the dialect as much as I loved this book to tell the truth. No wonder John Steinbeck won the Pulitzer Prize in 1940 for this work.
The Grapes of Wrath centres on the Joads; a Dustbowl family from Oklahoma whose land was confiscated from them, along with others in the Midwestern states. All these families head for California where it is understood that there is lots of opportunity in that golden state to start again. This being in immigrant work or farm labour in grape, pear and peach reaping.The trek is long but it's supposed to be well worth it with expectant good wages. and somewhere decent to live, somewhere to call home.
Meet the Joad family of Ma Joad; a good Christian woman and as the strength and spine of the family, she holds a tight reign on the entire bunch of them retaining their team spirit, and keeping the morale alive amongst them. Then there is Casey a sometimes preacher man; Tom Joad her eldest son who is driven and afraid of nobody, but just anxious to get out to California; his brother Noah, a man consumed in quiet moments, and little to say; Al the brother who drives the loaded down truck from Oklahoma, out to the West; Uncle John a restless soul, but who can blame him! These along with Pa Joad the Joad sister Rose of Sharon, and the young ones Ruthie and Winfield they make up the exodus. An exodus like none ever seen, we share in each heartache and disappointment as well as their hopefulness which Ma stokes daily. As the Joad turn from farmers in their own right to immigrant workers, it gets harder for the family to retain their dignity. The reader will find himself living through these characters lives, and experiencing gratefulness for the little things which are so often taken for granted day in and day out.
I would love to encourage anyone interested in good literature, to get your hands on this powerful book soon. It certainly encouraged me to look at life differently.
Reviewed by
Heather Marshall
January 10th, 2003
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Who am I to review one of the greatest literary works of all time? Could I possibly give this book anything less than the maximum rating it so richly deserves? Should I even commence? Those were just some of my private thoughts as I finally put down a copy of this book - read. This is the book which stirred the American conscience, caused political reform and brought about change when first published in 1939. This is the book which described how families were starving to death because of corruption. This is John Steinbeck at his exceptional best. For those people who never got around to reading this engaging and absorbing account of the Joad family, may I suggest you actually purchase a copy (any copy!) and finally read it.

Today the world is either in recession or emerging from the dark grip of this latest financial catastrophe. Whilst we may live in a time when millions of families are no longer allowed to starve to death - well, not in the developed world at any rate, I earnestly believe there are lessons to be learned from this book about the rich and powerful who care not for their fellow man but only for personal gain. More importantly, those lessons are as relevant today as they were in 1939.

Another similarity also failed to escape my notice; In this book we see how US police and other officials use their positions of authority to threaten and even blackmail the many thousands of American migrants who were simply looking for work in order to feed hungry mouths. These people had not arrived from any foreign country and were not even black - something which would have made their persecution much easier. No!, these ordinary white American folk were honest farmers who had been forcibly evicted from their homes and the land they had worked for generations. Seventy years on, here in the UK, we are besieged by TV programmes depicting our different police forces undertaking their various duties around the country. Yet more cheaply produced "reality" television! Significantly, however, I have occasionally noticed how some police officers deliberately provoke a hostile situation where none exists. Whilst not on the scale portrayed in this outstanding work, it is interesting that I should recognise that underlying attitude of arrogant superiority.

Whilst some may find the book slow going at the start, Steinbeck quickly gathers in those loose strands until they suddenly pull together to assume a story, reveal a mental photograph and produce a relevance into which the reader becomes fully immersed. I promptly learned local words and understood the dialect in which they were spoken as the Joad story unfolded. I could hear those southern accents as hardships are endured and explained through the actions of those who lived them. This was the organised, legalised daylight robbery and exploitation of the poor by the rich who were actively supported by the law enforcement agencies. A week's work for 1,000 fruit pickers paying 50 cents an hour is advertised to 3,000 hungry people who then pass on the message. Consequently, 5,000 starving workers arrive in search of that employment. With so much competition, the rate is lowered to 30 cents - take it or leave it! It was a deliberate ploy repeated time after time. Anyone attempting to organise his fellow workers is photographed, black-listed and branded a communist. Now feed that to your children. Then the banks insist the farmers reduced the rate to 25 cents and any landowner who questions that decision is swiftly reminded of his own vulnerability as a mortgagee! In short, either you pay them 25 cents or you join them! My own immediate reaction was to recognise a similarity between then and now - specifically with those modern banking practises which preyed on the sub-prime market. Anyone who cared to consider precisely what "sub-prime" meant, knew it was a policy destined to fail. And fail it did in spectacular fashion - and yet, the fat cat bankers still draw bonuses based on "personal performance" and not on their company's overall profit or loss...

I note from some of the comments appended to certain editions of this book, that various issues have been produced in which, apparently, Steinbeck's prose are changed to make the work an easier read. Please don't take the easy option, take the version written as it was intended to be read - i.e. the version written by Steinbeck. If not, you cannot claim to have read this book at all - instead you have the equivalent of, say, a Romeo and Juliet story - set in Manhattan in the 21st Century - and there are plenty of those...

In closing, I would urge anyone (indeed everyone) who has not already read an original version of this book, to go out and buy a copy - any old copy, and then simply read it. Having done that, you too will draw parallels with our modern age and understand what I mean. You will also be richer for having done so - as would those fat cats who, unfortunately, will probably never bother. Having finally finished reading this outstanding work, I wonder how many of you will still be wondering whatever happened to that perfectly matched pair of Bays! I do...

NM
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John Steinbeck's Pulitzer prize-winning novel was both a colossus of a book, an infinitely worthy winner, and a far-from perfect book, a flawed book.

On the front of the paperback version I started to read (before downloading from Kindle, as there was just too much I needed to underline) was the following quote from Steinbeck:

"I've done my damndest to rip a reader's nerves to rags, I don't want him satisfied"

The Grapes of Wrath was published in 1939 when the machinery of war was providing a terrible solution to the stock market crash and depression of the 30s, which is the subject of this book. It is a book written out of white hot, red hot rage, disgust and righteous polemic against an indifferent, blinkered and self-obsessed capitalism.

The book follows the fortunes of one small family, the Joads, Oklahoma small farmers, homesteaders, and how the move from small family farming to larger and larger conglomerates, changed and destroyed our connections to the land itself, and to each other.

The Joads stand for the thousands of other, unnamed, the small men and women.

Like thousands of other homesteaders, losing their land and their livelihood in the face of conglomerate rapacity, the Joads follow the lure of jobs to be had, fruit-picking (for virtually starvation wages) in California

Steinbeck for sure uses and manipulates his readers, hectors them, lectures them, throws the red book at them, shoves our faces up against our own indifference, our sentimentality, our complicity. Having lacerated us with bruising accounts of our hard-heartedness, of our denial of the beggars in our neighbourhood, he cunningly and deliberately rubs salt in our wounds by exploiting our sentimentality.

The deaths of many, through starvation and illness because of starvation, and the deaths and the suffering of some of the individuals whose journeys we follow, in the book are intercut with the casual death and suffering of animals, whether by our carelessness, or the carelessness of a red in tooth and claw natural world.

Where are we most hurt, where do we weep most - is it for the suffering of our own kind, or is it for the suffering of another species. I knew my tears and my grief for the death of an animal were manipulated by the writer. But I also knew why, and I knew what he was showing me about myself, and could not, in any way, fault his manipulation here.

Steinbeck also punches the reader, again and again, with the righteousness of left wing politics, the infamy of capital. Yes, we live in a world where it is now easy to see that communism and socialism (not to mention other isms) can be as self-serving of its own ideology, as much inclined to sacrifice the individual on the alter of its own drive to `progress' and `the ends justify the means' - but I don't personally have any problem with his polemic, placed in its own time.

Yes, for sure there are long sections which are boring, where, for example, pages and pages are devoted to the hard graft of repairing cars - but, again, I don't mind, because he is wanting to make the reader realise the skill and the dignity of manual work. And yes, there are also at times problems with trying to give a flavour of the speech of the common man - at times the setting down of dialect gets wearing, and makes characters sound a bit simple or idiotic (my prejudices showing, clearly) , whereas this is not what is intended, and I think, again, Steinbeck is trying to offset a literature which is written by, and for, the ruling classes and the intelligentsia.

I have to forgive all these `flaws', these niceties, about what literature should be, how it should NOT be polemic, how we should NOT be so at times crassly manipulated, because this is a book whose power, whose beauty, whose hugeness overrides its imperfections.

My nerves are indeed ragged, I am sick and sore, hurt and confused. I feel as if I have been run over by a proverbial ten ton truck, repeatedly, and then, offered exquisite flowers, delicate, fragile moments, writing of transcendent glory, before, again Steinbeck punches me in the gut and delivers yet another knock-out blow, of polemic, putting me through the emotional wringer, or boring me with the innards of motors.

But I don't care. This is a book which seethes with enormous power, and the roughness of its sometime edges are part of that power. `Perfection' would be, in this case, something to inhibit the power.

I'm grateful, very grateful, to another reviewer (FictionFan) whose own superb review kicked me into reading this

Finally, this particular Kindle download version is brilliant, interlaced as it is with wonderful reproductions of paintings and drawings and stills from the movie which was made of this book. Thanks, again, to FictionFan for persuading me to this version .
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on 16 September 2002
After reading this book, you understand why it is that Steinbeck received the nobel prize for literature. 'The Grapes of Wrath' is in its own league- a novel written by a true genius.
Set in California, it follows the misfortunes of the Joad family, who like many others have given up their lives in Oklahoma in search of work in California. It follows both their hopes and setbacks creating a moving account of the American dream of the 1930's, as we witness their struggle to make ends meet.
It is Steinbeck's use of descriptive language and his understanding of the power of the human spirit that brings these characters to life. We not only follow the Joad family in their struggle, but everyone who has ever experienced the struggles of 1930's America.
After having read this book, I now have an answer for the commonly asked question, "What's your favourite novel?"
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I remembered The Grapes of Wrath from school many years ago and decided to re-read it. I am so glad I did. This is a powerful novel that had left a profound impression. I had read the novel only twice at school, but remembered so much of it so clearly. Pretty much scene by scene, it was all familiar. I remembered whole phrases, whole sentences, many images.

I imagine anyone coming to this novel will know it documents the westward migration from the dustbowl states to California on the false promise of rich fruit-picking opportunities. Steinbeck controls his material perfectly, interleaving chapters set at the personal level following the Joad family, and chapters at the societal level including political observations, editorial comment and anecdotes that broaden the focus from the Joads. He balances the naive hope against the warning signs all around. Even on the third read when the ending is known, the reader is still rooting for Tom Joad, still wishing they could stay in the Government camp, still hoping Herbert Hoover might do something to end the misery.

The Grapes of Wrath is a long book, but it is a quick read that is difficult to put down. This is an object lesson in quality of writing, bringing people and places to life; and it is also a mighty historical record of a short but important time of social change in the United States.

I hardly ever reread books - maybe I should do it more often.
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on 23 April 2004
..you read something which simply grabs hold of you and will not let you go. It is 3 months since I finished this book and it can only be described as truly an epic. Steinbeck's ambition is immense - the landscapes and horizons for the Joad family's fateful journey are vast and daunting.
Overall the story broke my heart - to think that such injustices and hardship prevailed for such numbers of people only 70-80years ago was astonishing. So much for "land of the free"!
I cried at the denouement - having wondered how it could end. Realising that there could naturally be no thought of a happy ending, I was genuinely shocked by what happened in the final pages, even though I feltI was beyond shock given the horrors I had already witnessed during the Joad's dignified but incessant decline.
Take some time and treat yourself to a true literary masterpiece. I feel genuinely rewarded having read this and it has opened my eyes to social injustice in America that Ic ould never have understood from a history book. I hope it has such an impact on you as well.
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