Review: The Moon is Down

The Moon is Down is an unusual little nugget of writing that sits at the corner of literature and propaganda. John Steinbeck produced it with the intent of turning it into a performance and motivating resistance in World War II. That’s obviously easy to get wrong, but Steinbeck manages it.

Moon is set in unnamed town occupied by an unnamed force, but there’s little doubt that he’s talking to an about Nazi Germany and probably Norway, but pretty certainly a Scandinavian country. It’s a clever choice in that he keeps it specific enough that it could attract those who want to solve the “puzzle” while drawing others with the writing and story.

Another feature of this approach is the opportunity to makes the situation and the characters more elemental. That tack is pretty clear to writers and readers, but Steinbeck is able to pull it off with uncommon power and depth.

The characters are all playing roles and framing symbols, but they’re believable. They are not people. I can’t imagine meeting one of them, but they all act as humans would for human reasons. It makes the themes and ideas much more powerful by not distracting readers with extraneous character flourishes. He hits the sweet spot between faceless icon and memorable character. In many ways, it feels like the play into which he wanted to adapt it.

The themes are largely about the power and pathos of the roles that war and leadership impose on us. Steinbeck manages to make even the motivations that drive occupiers most horrific actions sympathetic while the actions remain horrible.

Overall, it’s quite a powerful work in a odd niche.

Strongly Recommended.

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