A Russian Journal, John Steinbeck

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I was a student of Russian language and literature in the 90s and spent some time in the former Soviet Union. I’m a big fan of John Steinbeck’s novels and am surprised that it took me so long to read this.

Steinbeck and his friend, photographer Robert Capa, went to the Soviet Union to document and photograph the lives of the ordinary Russian people. It’s basically a slice of life of the time and documents very well not only how Russian, Ukrainian and Georgian people live, but also the huge amounts of ridiculous bureaucracy of the Soviet machine.

One scene that stands out is the description of how long it takes from ordering a meal in a restaurant to having that meal arrive at your table.

There is some good comparative writing about the difference between the cult of personality status of the Soviet Union versus the US presidential system. The esteem in which Stalin was held whilst he was in office is quite incredible and almost impossible for a non-native to comprehend.

As Steinbeck states in his monologues, he’s not there to present the information in any particular way, he’s just there to present the information, and this he manages to pull off very successfully.