Tortilla Flat by John Steinbeck — Reviewed by Guy Portman
Danny is an unemployed alcoholic, leading a transient existence in Monterrey, California. When Danny inherits two houses in the shabby district of Tortilla Flat, he invites a hobo friend and fellow paisano (descendant of Spanish peasants) to live with him. Danny’s new lodger, Pilon, is a self-proclaimed logician, obsessed with morality. The pair are soon joined by workshy Jesus Maria, the mentally handicapped Pirate, and his pack of dogs.
We follow their escapades, which entail endless wine drinking, fighting, forgiving, scheming, and interactions involving a bootlegger, several women of dubious repute, and various impoverished locals.
Hapless yet noble characters populate this allegorical and didactic work that extols friendship and virtue over capitalism and materialism.
This early Steinbeck novel (1935) closely parallels the fables about King Arthur. Shared themes include friendship, oath, inheritance and kingdom. Whilst Tortilla Flat is inferior to many of the author’s later efforts, this reader would not hesitate in recommending it to all Steinbeck aficionados.