The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck audiobook review – California dreaming

The desperate tale of the Joad family during the Great Depression is expertly narrated by actor Richard Armitage

A mass movement of people driven from their homes by environmental catastrophe and hoping for a fresh start in a new land: there’s a sad familiarity to the events depicted in John Steinbeck’s Pulitzer prize-winning novel from 1939 in which the Joad family, tenant farmers from Oklahoma, are forced to leave their farm due to drought and financial hardship. They set off for California where they have heard there are jobs aplenty, but when they arrive they find thousands of fellow migrants living in desperate poverty. The newcomers are exploited by the rich, abandoned by the authorities, and treated with suspicion and hostility by locals. “Okie use’ ta mean you was from Oklahoma,” laments one Dust Bowl migrant. “Now it means you’re a dirty son-of-a-bitch. Okie means you’re scum. Don’t mean nothing itself, it’s the way they say it.”

Marking 120 years since Steinbeck’s birth, this new recording is narrated by the actor Richard Armitage, whose tone is sturdy but solemn, and who expertly navigates the midwest dialect and the book’s multiple voices. Chief among the protagonists is Tom Joad, the second of the six Joad children, who is newly paroled from prison after a four-year stretch for manslaughter, and shocked to find his family packing up to leave. There is also Ma Joad, determined, dignified and resilient in the face of turmoil; Pa Joad, big-hearted but broken by all that has befallen the family; and Jim Casy, a former preacher and the beating heart of Steinbeck’s book, who challenges injustice at devastating personal cost.

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