A few weeks ago I heard about a writer who tried to trace the route that Steinbeck traveled for his Travels with Charley. I never read Travels with Charley, aside from an excerpt that was in a high school literature book. But the new book made me think of another Steinbeck book I had read, A Russian Journal. I decided to reread the book that I fortunately found in our library.
It's a short book, detailing Steinbeck's trip to Russia with photographer Robert Capa in 1948. Their goal was to get to meet ordinary Russian people, just as the cold war was getting underway. This was a time when Russia was very much closed off from the world at the height of Stalin's rule. In addition to Moscow, Steinbeck and Capa visited Kiev, farms in the Ukraine, and several cities and farms in Georgia. They also participated in the 800 year anniversary of the founding of Moscow.
The book has no political commentary on the differences between the USA and Russia, apart from humorous descriptions on dealing with Russia bureaucracy. Instead, we are shown how the Russian people were trying to recovery form the devastation of WWII. The description of the Ukrainian women dancing together after a hard day working on the farm because there were no young men, was particularly poignant. The book really the lives of the people. Steinbeck acknowledges that he didn't see the prison camps or the sensitive areas. Instead he excels in his sympathetic descriptions of the people he met.
This was the era where heavy drinking seemed to be expected, especially among the expatriate journalist community. Those were the days! Reading this book makes me want to go back to reread the Steinbeck classics.