Review: Cup of Gold

Cup of Gold (Penguin Modern Classics)Cup of Gold by John Steinbeck

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

To be a fair critic of this book, you'd need to not know who the author was before you started the book. As a first book, it doesn't deserve to carry the literary stigma of The Grapes of Wrath or Of Mice and Men. And it is a stigma, because any reader who has read those books will go looking for at least the seed of what was to become some of the greatest writing of the 20th century, and if it's a readers first Steinbeck, they're going to be expecting to see what is so great about his work. Unfortunately for this book, it just wasn't there yet. And of course it shouldn't be, how many really good authors do their best work first? That's not to say this is bad writing, rookie Steinbeck is still better that 50% of what I've read. The theme, a young man dreams of more, believes he can obtain it through hard work, and then discovers that life isn't that simple (okay, so there's that seed of future Steinbeck) is portrayed through a fictionalized version of the life of the very real pirate/privateer Henry Morgan. There's an odd sort of realism to the book, Steinbeck's pirates do have pillage and torture, rape is alluded to, they make use of the services of prostitutes, but there's no mention of them killing anyone when they do these things. Whole Spanish ships are captured through the use of fire and canonball, but there would appear to be no casualties. That lack of finality weakens the story tremendously, <spoiler>and when Morgan does kill two members of his own crew, one that he's grown very attached to, it makes the previous omissions of mortality all the more obvious.</spoiler>

I'd go with 2 1/2 stars if I could, but I'll bump it up because a)Steinbeck and b) Pirate.

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