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Guest post: Marion reviews The Red Pony by John Steinbeck

August 15, 2012 18 comments

The Red Pony by John Steinbeck French title: Le poney rouge. 1945.

Marion is 11 and she’s my daughter. I’m very proud to publish her first billet about a book we read together this week. She wrote it in French, so I’ll leave the French text and translate it into English for you. I’ll tell you my thoughts about this novella afterwards. If you wish to leave a comment, it would be lovely to write it in French if you can.

Ce livre parle de Jody, un petit garçon de 10 ans qui va à l’école. Il vit dans un ranch en Californie avec ses parents et Billy Buck, le garçon d’écurie. Un jour, son père lui offre un poney qu’il appelle Gabilan. Jody s’en occupe toute la journée sauf quand il est à l’école. Billy Buck est très bon pour s’occuper des chevaux et aide Jody à dresser le poney. Un jour, le poney reste dehors sous la pluie et il tombe malade. Le poney va-t-il survivre ? Jody va-t-il s’en remettre ? C’est un livre émouvant avec à la fois de la joie et de la tristesse. J’ai bien aimé ce livre car il y a de l’aventure et des émotions fortes. Aussi c’était super de savoir ce qui se passe dans un ranch en Californie, comment ils vivent avec beaucoup d’animaux, en particulier des chevaux. J’ai bien aimé les parties de descriptions car on pouvait vraiment s’imaginer les endroits avec les détails. Je me suis posé quelques questions : Jody appelle ses parents « M’sieu et M’dame ». Cela m’a surprise parce que d’habitude on n’appelle pas nos parents comme ça. Donc si vous lisez le livre vous vous poserez peut-être des questions vous aussi…

Infos pratiques : Ce livre est conseillé à partir de 11 ans. John Steinbeck a sorti ce livre en 1945. Les personnages sont : Jody et Gabilan, des amis très proches, Billy Buck,le meilleur soigneur de cheval de la Californie, et M et Mme Tiflin, les parents de Jody.

Translation: This book is about Jody, a ten-year-old boy who goes to school. He lives in a ranch in California with his parents and Billy Buck, their cowboy. One day, his father gives him a pony. Jody names him Gabilan. Jody takes care of him all day except when he’s in school. Billy Buck is very good at taking care of horses and he helps Jody train Gabilan. One day, the pony stays in the rain and gets sick. Will he survive? How will Jody cope with the situation? This book is moving and is both joyful and sad. I liked this book because it includes adventure and strong emotions. It was also great to know what happened in a ranch in California, how they used to live with a lot of animals and especially horses. I enjoyed the parts with the descriptions because I could really imagine the scenery, with all the details. I had some questions: Jody calls his parents “M’sieu” and “M’dame” [Emma: Sir / Ma’am] It surprised me because you don’t usually call your parents like that. So, if you read this book, perhaps you’ll have questions too.

Information: This book is for children over 11. John Steinbeck published this novel in 1945. The characters are Jody and Gabilan, close friends, Billy Buck the best horse raiser in California and Mr and Mrs Tiflin, Jody’s parents.

I hope you enjoyed reading Marion’s thoughts about The Red Pony, which I read in French too, so I’m a little bit embarrassed to include quotes in my billet although I’d love to because Steinbeck’s descriptions of California would be worth quoting.

The Red Pony is composed of three episodes of Jody’s life, a little boy who lives in a ranch in California, near Salinas, Steinbeck’s hometown. The first one gives the book its title and recalls the moment Jody got a red pony. The second one is about an old paisano, Gitano, who comes to the ranch. He wants to stay here until he dies because he was born in a nearby ranch which is now abandoned. Jody’s father can’t afford to feed someone who can’t work and refuses to keep him. This episode was the most difficult for Marion. I guess a child has difficulties to grasp how poignant it was. The old man has nowhere to go and like an animal, comes to his birth place to end his life. The third episode is about Jody, a new colt and Billy Buck. This time Jody’s father decides that he can have a horse and sends his mare Nellie to the stud to provide his son with a colt. Jody has to wait and take care of Nellie until the colt is born and months are a lot of time for a little boy.

This novella is an incredible glance at the life in such a ranch before WWII. Steinbeck’s love for his native California filters in his descriptions of the surroundings. Life is incredibly violent and instable. Everyone needs to earn their bread and the violence is in the human’s life and in the wildlife. The scene with a harrier hovering an animal which just died is almost unbearable. Carl Tiflin, Jody’s father struggles to repay the loans for the ranch and doesn’t have extra money for fantasies or to take care of old Gitano. He’s a hard man, hardened by a tough life on the ranch. (His father was a disciplinarian. Jody obeyed him in everything without questions of any kind.) He’s used to shutting out any emotion and fails to comforts his son when he needs it.

Billy Buck is the cowboy living on the ranch and he dearly loves Jody. He understands more than Carl Tiflin how much Jody loves his red pony and what it costs him to wait for Nellie’s colt to be born. He’s the one who takes into account the boy’s feelings when he has to make a difficult decision. In the end, he’s the real father figure of the book. Steinbeck doesn’t say it but it gives a new perspective to cowboy’s life: Billy Buck can’t afford to have a family and probably would have loved to have a son like Jody. His life is only made of hard work and a substitute son in Jody. I thought it was very sad.

The relationships between the characters are defined by rank and sex. Billy Buck doesn’t come for breakfast until Carl Tiflin, the master is in the kitchen. Mrs Tiflin is just a woman; she has no first name. The male characters are called by their Christian name and family name but Mrs Tiflin is only Carl’s wife. She has no identity of her own. This also says a lot about the rural society of the time.

I’m not a great Steinbeck fan but this little book is worth reading. It encapsulates the life of rural California, the landscapes, the living conditions and the social rules. All this in a very short book.

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