The Moon is Down, Paperback
4 out of 5 (7 ratings)


Originally published at the zenith of Nazi Germany's power, the Moon Is Down explores the effects of invasion on both the conquered and the conquerors.

Occupied by enemy troops, a small, peaceable town comes face-to-face with evil imposed from the outside and betrayal from within the close-knit community.

As he delves into the motivations and emotions of the enemy, Steinbeck uncovers profound and often unsettling truths both about war and human nature.




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John Steinbeck is one of my favorite authors, and this is one of the last of his works that I hadn't yet read. A concise, very short little novella (only 112 pages), it is easy to get through, yet still significantly deep and extremely through provoking.Published in 1942, this book was considered dangerously relevant, and in some countries pronounced illegal. For this reason, Steinbeck never exactly specifies where this book is set or what army he is referring to - but it is quite obvious that he is writing about the occupation of Norway by Nazi Germans.One of those books that could easily have been condensed into a short story, this little book never changes scenes. I found at times that the dialogue and description got a bit tiresome and dragged out - but overall, it was a very sensitively portrayed, deep and well written work of overlooked literature.

Review by

Readers and commentators make a lot noise about the didactic value of The moon is down, and apparently originally regretted that Steinbeck portrays the oppressors in the book as human rather than monstrous. It seems these commentators forget that literature often serves a didactic purpose, intentionally or unintentionally.The moon is down tells the story how a village is conquered and occupied by a alien army force, which then puts the villagers to work to extract coal to support the needs of the occupying army. The story is wryly humourous. The oppressors are portrayed as civilised and orderly, but rigid and cruel when met with opposition. However, they are powerless against subtle resistance and refusal to be liked. As resentment among the oppressed rises, the populace is increasingly willing to run risks and extend its actions from passive resistance to active resistance, to repel the oppressor, and deal serious blow upon blow.The didactic value of the novel lies in the fact that it shows how anyone can take part in passive resistance and which roads are open and possible to both passive and active resistance. Portraying the oppressor as human makes it possible to understand and see the possible weaknesses of that oppressor. An enemy who is perceived as superhuman, can not be understood, only feared. The novel convincingly shows which possibilities people have in a situation like that; to readers in Nazi occupied Europe, the parallels between their situation and the novel would be evident. As the overall tone of the novel is optimistic, it would be enjoyable to read, and instructive at the same time.With hindsight, knowing or assuming the oppressor to be the Nazis, the novel is an interesting read that illustrates the situation of war-like occupation, as is known from many novels and history books, written after the war.

Review by

The Moon Is Down by John Steinbeck is a small gem of simplification whereby he shows that being the conqueror isn’t quite the pretty picture of victory that many believe. A seemingly easy invasion has this army celebrating it’s victory and making plans for the future. They slowly become aware that although this country has lost the battle, the war goes on. The populace is sullen and proud, and the conquerors dare not turn their backs. Soldiers who go out on their own seldom return. Reprisals only seem to make the people more determined to quietly fight on for the freedom they have lost.Published in 1942, this propaganda piece tells the story of the military occupation of a small mining town, bringing to mind the invasion of Norway by the Germans during World War II. Without specifically naming the Nazi’s, this is obviously a literary work that was meant to inspire and motive the resistance movement throughout Europe.Steinbeck writes of the trials and tribulations of both the oppressed and the oppressor, and he avoids the trap of making the Germans unnecessarily evil and the Norwegians overly heroic. Yet, evil is present and the heroic quietly stand tall. These are real people caught up in the drama of war, his characters from the gentle, patriotic mayor to the intelligent, conflicted enemy commander are well drawn and vividly portray the anguish and brutality that war and occupation brings to ordinary people.

Review by

First line:~ By ten-forty-five it was all over ~Short, but powerful!I read that this was written as propaganda to encourage the occupied countries in Europe to engage in resistance activities against the Germans. Reading it from my perspective, I found this book to be so much more than that. Steinbeck did a good job of actually humanizing the invaders and allowing the reader to see that the 'bad' guys are pretty much the same as the 'good' guys.Some of my favourite passages:Steinbeck comments on the futility of war:‘Lanser 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. Lanser told himself he was a soldier, given orders to carry out. He was not expected to question or to think, but only to carry out orders; and he tried to put aside the sick memories of the other war and the certainty that this would be the same. This one will be different, he said to himself fifty times a day; this one will be very different.’...'We told them they were brighter and braver than other young men. It was a kind of shock to them to find out that they aren't a bit braver or brighter than other young men.'About resistance:Mayor Orden whose town has been occupied, says to Colonel Lanser:'There is no law between you and us. This is war. Don't you know you will have to kill all of us or we in time will kill all of you? You destroyed the law when you came in, and a new law took its place. Don't you know that?'...'And over the town there hung a blackness that was deeper than the cloud, and over the town there hung a sullenness and a dry, growing hatred … the people of the conquered country settled in a slow, silent, waiting revenge … the cold hatred grew with the winter, the silent, sullen hatred, the waiting hatred.'Poignant description of the loneliness of the soldiers who are away from home:‘Their talk was of friends and relatives who loved them and their longings were for warmth and love, because a man can be a soldier for only so many hours a day and for only so many months in a year, and then he wants to be a man again, wants girls and drinks and music and laughter and ease, and when these are cut off, they become irresistibly desirable. And the men thought always of home.’… 'gradually a little fear began to grow in the conquerors, a fear that it would never be over, that they could never relax or go home, a fear that one day they would crack and be hunted through the mountains like rabbits, for the conquered never relaxed their hatred.'...'Thus it came about that the conquerors grew afraid of the conquered'…'I'm lonely to the point of illness. I'm lonely in the quiet and the hatred.'His language is beautiful.I can't wait for more Steinbeck! Onward to the Grapes of Wrath

Review by

Steinbeck writes extremely well. I can see why he won the Nobel Prize. The book is set in a Scandinavian town that was invaded by the Nazi's in WWII. It is a testament to the human spirit of people who don't accept repression.

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