A Russian Journal by John Steinbeck

March 8, 2015, Article by Tom in Books Worth Staring At

Only the very best books get the ‘Books Worth Staring At’ sticker, and here’s the latest to achieve this…

The book: A Russian Journal by John Steinbeck (with photographs by Robert Capa)

Published: First published in the US in 1948, our edition published by Penguin Modern Classics in 1999

Why we loved it: John Steinbeck is quite rightly regarded as a literary icon for his fiction. However, with A Russian Journal he shows that he’s also an engaging non-fiction writer, as he and his good friend, photographer Robert Capa, travel to the Soviet Union to explore what it’s really like following the fall of the Iron Curtain.

He remarks early on that ‘the most dangerous tendency in the world is the desire to believe a rumour rather than pin down a fact’, and with US-Soviet tensions strained at the time of his adventure, Steinbeck manages to pin down the truth about ordinary Russian people: these are kind-hearted, welcoming people who are determined to make successful lives for themselves and their families.

It’s bloody funny too. In fact, the one chapter written by Capa, ‘A Legitimate Complaint’, is one of the highlights, as he picks apart Steinbeck and his faults in the way that only genuinely good friends can.

We’ve all read Steinbeck’s fiction masterpieces, but to see another side of his writing it’s well worth giving this a try.