East of Eden, John Steinbeck

My rating: 4 of 5 stars (link to Goodreads)

What a cracker of a book! This was my first read on the Kindle and I have to say that it’s a very good way to consume a book. Between the Kindle app on the iPhone, Kindle 3G and iPad, it was easy to read small chunks or large chunks as time permitted.

I recently read Grapes of Wrath and went straight on to East of Eden. Steinbeck is without doubt one of my favourite writers; it’s just something about his knack of writing about the human spiritual condition that I can really relate to.

It’s quite a grand tale in terms of the span of time it covers, but in essence it’s the tale of two brothers from birth to death. The tale of how the brothers’ father comes into his own is handled very well and shows that we can shape our own destiny.

I don’t really know how to put into words the sense of spiritual well being that I get from Steinbeck’s novels. He lived in a different time in a different place, but still I can relate to his characters so well. It’s the human flaws, the inner monologues and struggles, the spiritual condition, all of those things make it seem so real. It’s philosophical, that’s what it is. I’m just at the right age for discovering Steinbeck’s masterpieces really.

A Russian Journal, John Steinbeck

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.