John Steinbeck: A Russian Journal



D out every roll of film but he did nothing about it and he uestioned nothing He just seems to be interested in foreign thingsBut it s also this same uality or at least an adjacent uality a certain lack of cynicism and skepticism that prevents Steinbeck from wondering about what might become of this very polite customs official so kind to foreigners and so interested in foreign things My uess is nothing ood Steinbeck s attempts to be objective inevitably yield interpretations of their own Sometimes this results in powerful passages that move organically from either observation or background research to interpretationKyiv at one time must have been a beautiful city It is much older than Moscow It is the mother of Russian cities Seated on its hill beside the Dnieper it spreads down into the plain Its monasteries and churches and fortresses date from the 11th centurynow it is a semi ruin Every public building every library every theater destroyed not with unfire not through fighting but with fire and dynamiteCounting soldiers there would be many but six million out of forty five million civilians have been killedEvery piece of machinery in the Ukraine has been destroyed or removed so that now until can be made everything must be done by hand Every stone and brick of the ruined city must be lifted and carried with the hands for there are no bulldozers And while they are rebuilding the Ukrainians must produce food for theirs is the The Patriot Bride greatranary of the nation Here in white plaster in the museum was a model of the new city A randiose fabulous city to be built of white marble the lines classical the buildings hugethe people come through the wreckageto look at the plaster cities of the future In Russia it is always the future that is thought of It is the crops next year it is the comfort that will come in ten years it is the clothes that will be made very soonIn Russia it is always the future that is thought of isn t an objective fact of course it s an impression but that s fine with me It s an insightful and poetic passage that shows me Steinbeck was a reat observer at least about certain things It is like a religious thing is also an impression but a perspicacious oneLater we went to Red Suare where a ueue of people at least a uarter of a mile long stood waiting to Inventing the Future go through Lenin s tombAll afternoon and nearly every afternoon a slow thread of people marches through the tomb to look at the dead face of Lenin in hislass casketIt is like a religious thing although they would not call it religious Incidentally in 1942 Steinbeck wrote a work of propaganda called The Moon is Down I ve never read it although one line that sticks out to me on the book s Wikipedia page is the text never names the occupying forces as Germans Not naming seems to be a trait of propaganda and was something I noticed in Christopher Nolan s Dunkirk as well no specifics no real content just well choreographed aerial battles and archetypes of courage on one side vs archetypes of evil on the other Likewise we Understanding Women get some vaguelimpses of German POWs in A Russian Journal hard at work on canals and metro tunnels Steinbeck doesn t have much sympathy for them and perhaps understandably so And to be clear I don t blame Steinbeck for doing it while the war was oing on Nolan s reductive sentimentality from the vantage of the 21st century is another matter but I do wonder if it s possible to write propaganda even for one of the most justified causes in human history and then simply walk away from it unchanged as a writer Take the following passage from A Russian Journal for exampleIn nothing is the difference between the Americans and the Soviets so marked as in the attitude not only toward writers but of writers towards their system For in the Soviet Union the writer s job is to encourage to celebrate to explain and in every way to carry forward the Soviet system Whereas in America and in England a ood writer is the watch dog of society His job is to satirize its silliness to attack its injustices to stigmatize its faults And this is the reason that in America neither society nor Verdammt verliebt government is very fond of writers The two are completely opposite approaches toward literature And it must be said that in the time of thereat Russian writers of Tolstoi of Dostoevski of Turgenev of Chekhov and of the early Gorki the same was true of the Russians And only time can tell whether the architect of the soul approach to writing can produce as The Way Between the Worlds (The View from the Mirror, great a literature as the watch dog of society approach So far it must be admitted the architect school has not produced areat piece of writingThe most skilled propagandist couldn t have done much better than this unconscionable paragraph It s not the obliteration of individual expression and thought through torture and mass murder it s merelya cultural difference Granted Steinbeck almost certainly didn t know just how bad the repression really was but if he didn t find the idea he expresses here deeply suspicious he wasn t much of the watchdog he seems to regard himself as existing in the tradition of A real watchdog would be skeptical of all Inverloch Volume 4 governments and wouldn t spare foreignovernments out of politeness or the politically correct dogma that we can t pass judgment on them because they re foreign Whom does Steinbeck think made the decision that the job of Soviet writers is to celebrate their system Doesn t he sense that the Soviet relationship between writer and The Good and Beautiful God government is a version of the American one in which theovernment has crushed the watchdogs Steinbeck may have set the artistic parameters that he didn t want to offer interpretation but he is interpreting and his attempt to sound fair and objective in this case instead makes him sound naive at best The passage is also a profound insult to every Soviet writer who had the courage to write the truth about what was happening in their country Nor could Stalin have been too displeased with the following paragraph It s true that it occasionally yields interesting results for Steinbeck to play dumb if that s what he s doing and bend over backwards to be judicious in trying to intuitively explain the phenomena of totalitarianism but it also makes him sound again either naive or insincereTo Americans with their fear and hatred of power investe. To Moscow and Stalingrad now Volgograd but through the countryside of the Ukraine and the Caucasus A RUSSIAN JOURNAL is the distillation of their journey and remains a remarkable memoir and uniue historical document Steinbeck and Capa recor.

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I loved this book about Steinbeck s trip through Russia after WW2 and what he saw It was one of the last trips through Russia by a writer or journalist before the Cold War ot oing in earnest Words and ImagesSteinbeck s A Russian Journal first published in April 1948 was in a significant way similar to The Log from the Sea of Cortez originally published three years later in 1951 both books were collaborative efforts Whereas Cortez was a collaboration between a journalist and a scientist the earlier Russian adventure was that of writer and photographer Although an eyewitness account of journalist Steinbeck s and photographer Capa s travels through Russia Ukraine and Georgia at the cusp of the Cold War A Russian Journal is a work of art and literature beautifully written and wonderfully documented with images of historical significance and everyday life It is educational fun and inspiring I enjoyed comparing Capa s photos and Steinbeck s descriptions of the photos All of the real people in the book were described with such skill by Steinbeck that they resembled well developed characters from a novel Wherever Steinbeck journeyed he captured the spirit of the times and the spirit of place brilliantly After I finished reading the book I felt like I had been to all the places and met all the people I started reading A Russian Journal with a blank slate in terms of my thoughts on John Steinbeck never read The Grapes of Wrath never read East of Eden except knowing vaguely that Steinbeck had been harassed by the FBI for his supposedly leftistSocialist leanings It might also be relevant to note that I read it during the first couple of weeks after I d moved to Russia admittedly for the nakedly emotional reason that I didn t know anyone there and thought that a fellow American who d made the same trip albeit 70 years previously would be ood company Of course time sometimes makes for a larger ulf than The Horse in Celtic Culture geographic distance Moscow at least for me bore an uncanny resemblance to DC both capitals of countries with ahemimperial characteristics the size andrandeur of the buildings seem to communicate that absolute power resides in man made institutions in the systems of overnment that each country has establisheddrive oh let s say I 40 from Flagstaff to Vegas however through the desert and you et a very different sense of the limitations of civilization Steinbeck s world on the other hand felt alien There are plenty of writers of his day who don t strike me as antiuated at all but there s something about Steinbeck s music that makes it impossible to forget the dislocations of time Stalin and Truman are alive and in power the hydrogen bomb hasn t yet been developed the best way to correspond between Moscow and New York is the post swing music still seems deliciously decadent and you can feel rather pleased with yourself when you end a chapter in your book with the phrase a man does not drink another man s whisky Something that might strike contemporary readers as familiar however is the attitude of suspicion and obsessiveness over Russia That s how Steinbeck describes the atmosphere in the US anyway At the time he went to Russia in 1947 the Cold War was just beginning as he says in the book he wanted to Every Boys Dream get away from what he considered partisan bickering and hysteria and write down only what he saw in the USSR In the papers every day he writes there were thousands of words about Russia What Stalin was thinking about the plans of the Russian General Staff the disposition of troops experiments with atomic weapons anduided missiles all of this by people who had not been there and whose sources were not above reproach And it occurred to us that there were some things that nobody wrote about RussiaWhat do the people wear there What do they serve at dinner Do they have parties What food is there How do they make love and how do they die What do they talk about Do they dance and sing and play Do the children o to schoolWe wanted to et to the Russian people if we couldThis might have been when I started to notice something weirdly sentimental and childlike about Steinbeck s writing do they play but I can t fault his intention He makes a point that resonates with my sense today that a lot of the news we A Succession of Bad Days get here in the US about the rest of the world is presented in a dramatic context relevant only insofar as it plays a role in our reality show Not everything has to be screamingly relevant to be interestingor maybe a better point is that most of what s presented to us as relevant really isn t and that with some patience and subtlety we might find the most unexpected and striking relevance in stories of ordinary human experience I m with Steinbeck there And to be sure hiseneral approach to traveling seems wiseWe knew there would be many things we couldn t understand many things we wouldn t like many things that would make us uncomfortable This is always true of a foreign country But we determined that if there should be criticism it would be criticism of the thing after seeing it not beforeHe refers to we and us throughout by the way in order to include his partner on the journey war photographer Robert Capa it s clear that Steinbeck wants to mirror in his prose the objectivity that he believes Capa has achieved with his photographs Capa s most famous photo is The Falling Soldier taken during the Spanish Civil War although there s some controversy over whether or not it was staged Impossible as true objectivity may be Steinbeck demonstrates an openness to the common people of the USSR a trait that couldn t have been taken for ranted in his time nor today for that matter On this journey those people are mostly Russians Ukrainians and Georgians because Moscow Stalingrad now Volgograd Kyiv Tiflis now Tbilisi and Gori as well as a few collective farms in Ukraine are the places the Soviets want Steinbeck and Capa to see And it s this uality of curiosity about everyday life that allows Steinbeck to take note of interesting characters like the customs official who inspects his belongingsThe customs man was very polite and very kindBut as he proceeded it became clear to us that he was not looking for anything in particular he was just interested He turned over our shining euipment and fingered it lovingly He lifte. Just after the iron curtain fell on Eastern Europe John Steinbeck and acclaimed war photographer Robert Capa ventured into the Soviet Union to report for the New York Herald Tribune This rare opportunity took the famous travellers not only.

KINDLE A Russian Journal ´ John Steinbeck – chernov–art.com

D in one man this is a frightening thingat public celebrations the pictures of Stalin outgrow every bound of reason We spoketo a number of Russians and had several answers One was that the Russian people had been used to pictures of the czar and the czar s familyanother was that the icon is a Russian habit of mind and this was a kind of an icon A third that the Russians love Stalin so much that they want him ever present A fourth that Stalin himself does not like this and has asked that it be discontinued But it seems to us that Stalin s dislike for anything else causes its removalBut Steinbeck either fails to acknowledge or doesn t realize that any Soviet citizen who valued their health would have stayed far away from him or offered only the blandest of cliches Whether he has any inkling of this or not he proceeds as if he doesn t and I think that s what ultimately makes his approach untenable In his effort to et away from political bickering he forgets that every aspect of the society he s encountering is informed by politics and power The answers that he receives from people are not representative of their uncensored individual thoughts as Orwell would suggest a couple of years later in 1984 one of the ultimate oals of a totalitarian society is to eliminate not just individual expression but individual thought they re perverted by the terror of Soviet life In one of his last interviews Anthony Bourdain told a story about eating with a man from Laos who was missing both his legs When Bourdain asked him what had happened the man told him that when he was younger he d stepped on unexploded American ordinanceand just like that a conversation about something seemingly individual had become a conversation about something seemingly world historical It s hard to keep these concepts separate for very long at all and when we try the results tend to be rotesueFurther while it s commendable that Steinbeck wants to serve as a corrective to what he calls Moscowitis and what we now know became McCarthyism he fails to make a crucial distinction He fails to understand that writing about the Soviet The Great Passage government s atrocities is not mutually exclusive with his appreciation of the Soviet people it would in fact conceivably be to their benefit at least in the court of public opinion and this is because they are in the majority not Stalin s accomplices but his victims Review continued in comment 1 below This is a book definitely worth reading but I wouldn t put it up there with Steinbeck s best It has clear prose spiced with humor pathos and wonderful descriptions of places and people But the book is short and much was off limits In itself it is amazing that Steinbeck and the famed photographer Robert Capa were even allowed into Russia in 1947 two years after the war and with the Cold War in full swing Steinbeck was employed as a war correspondent by the New York Herald Tribune and he continued to work for them The aim of the book was to draw a picture of ordinary Russian people the focus was not politics How well does he capture the Russian people That which Steinbeck tells us and which Capa shows through his photos are interesting but the visit is too brief toive a full picture Bureaucracy and state restrictions hampered the endeavor Neither did they plan the trip that well They flew via Stockholm to Moscow where no rooms awaited them Finally installed first at the Metropol and then later at the Savoy they seek permission to leave Moscow to take photos and to talk to people Who was to sponsor them was even up for The Beast House / After Midnight grabs Eventually with papers and permission slips in order they make separate trips from Moscow to Kiev to StalingradVolgograd and to Georgia visiting both TiflisTbilisi and BatumBatumi Each time returning to Moscow to bathe and to sleep but in reality to drink and to converse with Western correspondents and Russian officials Too to the Bolshoi Capa was incessantly fretting over his photos would they be allowed out The two were only there a couple of weeks Yes they spent time with ordinary Russian people but the time spent was limited and often restricted The book shows vividly the destruction of the Patriotic War Gifts were Off Leash (Freelance Familiars Book 1) given to the City of Stalingrad from foreign nations but what were needed were artificial limbs housing and a whole new infrastructure Each morning in the suare outside their hotel window the two saw the Russian people mostly women creep out from the cellars all that remained from before It is uite a feat too to work in clean clothes Women because the men were crippled or killed Steinbeck s writing is sharp vivid and movingOutside Kiev the two men visited collective farms The people were I Walk in Dread generous with that which they had There was laughing andood food and dancing and music always music and dancing and vodka and brown bread and cucumbers and tomatoes Not fancy but The Life You Save generous singing happy people hopeful for the future Curious people always asking uestions and carefully evaluating theiven replies Rarely could Steinbeck or Capa Tempting Meredith (Lovers and Friends, give adeuate answers Do Americans like poetry Does the state help farmers with euipment new techniues and advice about experimental seeds It is the uestions posed by the ordinary Russians and then their replies to the answersiven that are the most telling Yet any reader must uestion whom were they allowed to meet and talk with Not just anyone In Georgia what the men saw is lyrically depicted Georgia was never destroyed by the war Always Inside MacPaint generous people dancing and music and food This section reads almost as a touristuide I continually looked at images of places visited on internet I wish I had seen Capa s photos Only a few are to be found on the web I listened to the audiobook reasonably well narrated by Richard Poe He tends to dramatize but his dramatization does fit the intent of Steinbeck s lines You could hear the humor You could hear the exasperation that intermittently arose between Capa and Steinbeck Capa would disappear into the bathtub for hours with his stolen borrowed books Steinbeck has his own little uirks we learn of too I am certainly Othello (Shakespeare for Everyone Else, glad I read this You have to take it for what it is and be happy for that we have been allowed tolimpse I would recommend reading the paper version so you see the photos they are half of the story. Ded the Fit For The Chase; Cars And The Movies grim realities of factory workersovernment clerks and peasants as they emerged from the rubble of World War II This is an intimate limpse of two artists at the height of their powers answering their need to document human struggl.

John Steinbeck III was an American writer He wrote the Pulitzer Prize winning novel The Grapes of Wrath published in 1939 and the novella Of Mice and Men published in 1937 In all he wrote twenty five books including sixteen novels six non fiction books and several collections of short stories In 1962 Steinbeck received the Nobel Prize for LiteratureSteinbeck grew up in the Salinas Valley