Racist? Wow, that's a tough one. If Gabriel Garcia-Marquez had written this novella, nobody would call it racist. It would be about a bunch of lazy drunk unambitious men who just happen to be Mexican-Indian-Italian-little-bit-of-everything.
Still, Garcia-Marquez didn't write it, Steinbeck did. Can the exact same words, and not just a phrase - what up, homey? - but 70,000 exact same words in a row - be racist when coming from a Californian of European descent, when they would not from a Colombian whose first language is Spanish?
I really don't know.
So I'm going to pretend the book was written by Gabriel Garcia-Marquez, and what a great book it is. His usual elements of eye-widening, soul-delighting surrealism are out in full force, what with women that seem to get pregnant without help, children thriving on just beans, but brought near death by vegetables and milk, and dogs and ghosts and all kinds of stuff that live right between reality and full frontal assault fantasy seizure.
And Garcia-Marquez' characters - just great. They are so messed up, but I swear by the time the book's over you'll see every situation exactly as they do. There's no situation they can't solve - really solve - by selling something for more wine.
As with any story of Garcia-Marquez, you know there's going to be humor - the winking dry variety, wherein our narrator is playing along with his characters, but also letting you know it's just a playalong.
This may rank right up there with his best - Hundred Years of Solitude and Love in the Time of Cholera. Make sure to get a copy by Garcia-Marquez, though. The one by Steinbeck has too many embarrassingly stereotypical Latino behaviors, which were tolerated in the 1930's but are not today.
Above the town of Monterey on the California coast lies the shabby district of Tortilla Flat. Inhabited by a colorful gang whose revels recall the exploits of King Arthur's knights. Soft-hearted, unquestioningly loyal to one another, and in complete disregard of social conventions and expectations, the gutsy denizens of Tortilla Flat cheerfully reside in a world of idyllic poverty.
"The oxtraordinary humors of these ciriously childlike natives are presented with a masterly touch." William Rose Benet
I reread this last year for the first time in 45 years, and experienced the perhaps familiar feeling of meeting an old friend who has changed in the interim -- when actually I'm the one who's changed. Give Steinbeck a chance, he can write circles around most writers of today -- too bad the Salinas Public Library withdrew their support for their most famous son! --from a native Bay Area Californian who's glad he left 23 years ago...
Great classic, entertaining and timeless.