Travels with Charley— John Steinbeck
–Book Review—Part I
Having just finished the book Travels with Charley I feel as tired as John Steinbeck when he reaches close to home near the New Jersey turnpike. His home was at Sag Harbor on Long Island which is mentioned several times in Moby Dick. The book is rather a pessimistic and despondent view of America’s future as observed in the 1960s. It is also a long journey of 10,000 miles. The name is inspired by Robert Louis Stevenson’s Travels with a Donkey in the Cevennes.
Of course it was an honor to ride with a Nobel Prize winner. He is a great American writer in English. One of my favorites is his “Grapes of Wrath.” I treasure my copies of The Log from the Sea of Cortez, Tortilla Flat and Cannery Row. This book is a worthy component of my Steinbeck library. I found it in one of those wondrous shops that sell old books in New Delhi.
The book attracts because of the secret desire of every person to take off on an explorative expedition of his or her own country. Steinbeck did exactly that despite a reported heart condition which he does not refer to in the entire book. People discredit the book because they allege that a large proportion of it is fiction. A little embellishment should be forgiven and the personal view points of the author on various subjects are very interesting.
The legend on the front page says:–
“The #1 National Bestseller. Now only 75cents.”
Travels with Charley
My copy of the book was printed by Bantam Books in July, 1963 which makes it 52 years old.
IN SEARCH OF AMERICA
It really feels I have been with him searching for the real America of the sixties. He touches upon all subjects in his journey and fills the reader with curiosity and wonder. He has in empathetic awe of things which shines through the pages; I felt it especially when he took me to the Redwood trees in California. He says, ‘The redwoods, once seen, leave a mark or create a vision that stays with you always.’—-“they are not like any trees we know, they are ambassadors from another time.’
Though the book has a sombre view of America’s future it makes interesting reading. I am sure he would have been surprised by the material progress of the country and pleasantly shocked on seeing Barack Obama as President of the country. He would be dismayed by the suspiciously prejudiced shootings of black people on the streets of America by the police.
It is a lovely journey taken half a century ago in a GMC truck converted into a mobile home named Rocinante after Don Quixote’s horse.
I have always loved Steinbeck. Cannery Row and the Log from the Sea of Cortez are two of my favorite books. Grapes of Wrath made me cry at the sad lot of the migrants from Oklahoma and other states during the depression and the dustbowl phenomenon working in pitiable conditions in California. Everyone loves ‘Doc’ based on his marine biologist friend Ed Ricketts.
I remember once I sort of fell into a chat room of a man and a woman discussing Steinbeck on the Internet. They were pondering over the fact that Steinbeck never wrote funny stuff. I interjected without a pardon me that perhaps they should read Cannery Row and Tortilla Flat. There was a stunned net-silence and net-raised eyebrows and the gentleman said in a profoundly amazed text which I believe was “thank you kind sir” and the chat room shut down.
Steinbeck discusses everything from coin operated machines to hairdressers and real estate. He describes his coffee drinking bouts with strangers in such detail that I had the urge every time to make coffee for myself; I did not add the whiskey which he seemed to proffer to strangers with or in the coffee. It was the same way with me when I was a small boy reading Famous Five books by Enid Blyton. When the Famous Five went on picnics I quickly made sandwiches to appease my aroused hunger pangs.
He is disappointed by the rapid growth of Seattle. The reader gets the unapproving drift from Steinbeck who wrote, ‘I came out on this trip to try to learn something of America.’ He finds the people of Ohio open and friendly as opposed to those in New England—“The natural New England taciturnity reaches its glorious perfection at breakfast. Early-rising men not only do not talk much to strangers, they barely talk to one another.”
I learned and some extra which I had to Google– like the ‘poor boy sandwich’; ‘ci git’; braceros, mulsed, hame bells and fleered.
He has many things to say about ‘resisting change’ Pg107; Lonesome Harry Pg 139; desert and spirituality Pg 214; Texans Pg 225. ‘what are Americans like today’—Pg 241. The South and Negro issue Pg 245.’Cheerladies New Orleans.’
His aphorisms are amusing—“A Texan outside of Texas is a foreigner.”
‘The meanwhile frightens me, sir.’
One of the people he encounters says, ‘I remember a time when Negroes had no souls.’
Elsewhere–“No sir,” he said, “I’ve been practicing to be a Negro a long time.”
“Yellowstone National Park is no more representative of America than is Disneyland.”
“A sad soul can kill you quicker, far quicker, than a gun.”
“There used to be a thing or commodity we put great strike by. It was called the People. Find out where the People have gone.”
He talks about Martin Luther King and Gandhi while discussing the race issue in America. He wanted ‘passive but unrelenting resistance.’ “There’s improvement, there’s constant improvement. Gandhi proved it’s the only weapon that can win against violence.”
Let’s hope you are right ‘Captain Sir’ as the scared old black man who fearfully agreed to take a ride in Rocinante called you. Let’s hope you are right Captain Sir.
Bill Steigerwald in his comments steered me to this page on the net which makes interesting reading including his book “Dogging Steinbeck” on Amazon.com.
Book Review of Life after Life by Kate Atkinson
The book Life after Life opens a time-warp into England during the Second World War. The author Kate Atkinson weaves a dreamlike story of Ursula, who dies several times but the author opts to resurrect her again and again, Life after Life. It is beautifully done. Finishing the book, I felt reluctant to leave the world of Ursula her mother Sylvie and sister Pamela. This book is a time machine that bounces even into the private life of Eva and Hitler.
Perhaps this is the best novel about London during the Blitzkrieg.
One has to be patient with good books. Most of them take about 70 pages to create a certain ambience and cast of characters. I got glued to the web of characters in Life after Life somewhere near hundred pages. That is them moment when one really looks at the back cover to read more about the author.
I am cowering now with Ursula in the ruins of a building in London during the night time incessant bombing.
As a writer I feel like a tiny dog perhaps like Jock. I want to bark a good story and run and run around Kate in circles yapping my praise mixed with jealous anger—‘How can you have so much talent?—while we here are eating cake in our literary poverty.
I have also decided that in future any book that I read will henceforth be defaced by me on the last empty blank page with tiny details of the characters as in plays’ cast of characters. That way I will not get lost as I did in A Thousand Years of Solitude with the Antonias and the Buendias.
Sylvie—mother of Ursula.
Hugh – Father of Ursula
Teddy – Ursula’s brother
Izzie – Hugh’s sister.
This listing will make life so much easier while reading great complicated books.
After finishing the book I feel as Kate Atkinson—about the book, ‘everything was ephemeral, yet everything was eternal.’ The book is so English. Kate has the secret map to a treasure of good writing. I am just like the cowboy in the posse who gets shot off his horse right in the beginning. Kate gallops ahead and reaches the gold mine.
Here I am sitting shot and propped up perhaps against a cactus in the desert pulling needles out of my butt as far as I can reach back. The realization of one’s own incompetence is so painful.
Maree and the Prince —Book Review A newly published eBook—Maree and the Prince deals with the subject of faith while telling the tale of a roguish writer who is a Prince given to excessive drinking. The Prince and His friend pursue members of the oldest profession with a vengeance. Maree is his involuntary secretary and driver. The Prince is possessed by an English ghost. The book also explores Christianity through a devout Maree. The ghost leads us on a journey to London, a sea voyage, Karachi, Lahore, Umballa and Simla in the 19th century. The book also takes us into an unexplored chapter of British-Indian history—that of Lascars—native sailors who were the first Indian immigrants in England. The book is a search for faith with the help of a saint and a faithful servant. http://www.amazon.in/Maree-Prince-Resident-Ghost-ebook/dp/B00I09DNF2 The eBook is available on Amazon.com, Barnes&Noble, Google books. Flipkart.com. An unwary and drunk poet tempts fate once too often and gets possessed by a vengeance seeking English Ghost. He gets lost in a haze of spirits both the bottled kind and those that rise from the grave. Time spins into a mist of non sequitur existence in a soul searching quest. This is a strange tale about a poet who writes only when drunk. His drunken scrawl can be deciphered by Bible reading Maree who works as his aide de camp. The poet is also a Prince from the House of Lipatia. The poet is possessed by a ghost from England. The story traipses through Lipatia, Chandigarh, London, Toronto, Karachi, Lahore, Umballa and Simla. The Prince is buffeted through life because of his own debauched existence. The ghost from the past is seeking its own answers. The voyage of the Prince with Maree and the ghost leads to a journey of personal discovery. The surprise in the novel lies in the religious angle as portrayed by Peer Baba. He is the head of a Mazhar a mausoleum where miracles and exorcisms are witnessed. There are many Mazhars near Chandigarh built around the graves of respected Muslim Pirs/Peers. One famous Mazhar exists on the national highway to Delhi from Chandigarh. All truck drivers stop here to pay their respects and pray for a safe journey. There are many such religious places all over the Punjab and many Pirs are credited with miraculous powers. The book also takes a look at the polytheism of Indian believers and their innate tolerance of religions other than their own. The author has used the story to encapsulate the life of Chandigarh and its surroundings as of today. It is a statement of our sexual mores bound in hypocrisy (as observed by G-1). This book can be categorized as historical fiction with a pinch of religious salt. The book gives surprising answers to modern problems which are embedded in our lives and thus endured although with disastrous results. The book persists in affirming and offering a path to singular faith in religion; which is but one thing seen through different prisms. Man cannot survive without religion.
Cloud Atlas—A Book Review
I think I am not made out for long novels like Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell. I begin to think of the futility of it all as I did in ‘A Hundred Years of Solitude.’
I suppose I should stick to crime novels of the Agatha Christie kind. Getting too old for these tongue twisting novels.
Of course I loved the first six stories but then the pidgin English of Zachry exhausted me. I just could not pick up the glass again. It was ‘enough no more it is not so sweet as before.’
I loved Timothy Cavendish. I loved Robert Frobisher. I loved Zachry and the Prescient Meronym.
The magician in David Mitchell; the Merlin of literature just sort of monopolized the conversation. It was like a brilliant school play that would not end.
I think if I get younger, I will read it again.
Maree—‘I will take over here because he is going to be in there a long time and besides I don’t think there is a camera hanging over my head. I don’t have to talk as if I am a movie director explaining a scene to an actor which in this case is always my Boss – His Royal Highness, Prince Ravee Singhjee. Paranoid and schizophrenic and many other things rolled into one frivolous, pampered and flirtatious ghost ridden self.
Me? Oh I am a happy soul. What else can I be? I am lucky to be alive. An orphan educated by a procession of American, European and Indian nuns a bit like his royal highness but only in my own poverty stricken way. I always touch my Bible to ward off bad luck and thank my stars. I would have been a rag-picker or a prostitute if my unknown benefactor had not left me wisely at the footsteps of the orphanage. I have a core of Christianity encapsulated by all the religious influences in the orphanage. The Hindu gardener. The Muslim cook. The Sikh bus driver.’
‘Sister Angela knowing my bookish inclinations thought she was doing me a favour by sending me off as a secretary who later also became a driver for this royal personage who calls himself a writer. He did indeed become famous for a short time when he wrote lyrics for Punjabi songs when he lived in Lipatia as a young man. He shifted to Chandigarh where an English Ghost grabbed him. Bhader blames Ravee and says, ‘you must have piddled under a banyan tree.’
Sample from Maree and the Prince–
A newly published eBook—Maree and the Prince deals with the subject of faith while telling the tale of a roguish writer who is a Prince given to excessive drinking. The Prince and His friend pursue members of the oldest profession with a vengeance.
Maree is his involuntary secretary and driver. The Prince is possessed by an English ghost. The book also explores Christianity through a devout Maree.
The ghost leads us on a journey to London, a sea voyage, Karachi, Lahore, Umballa and Simla in the 19th century. The book also takes us into an unexplored chapter of British-Indian history—that of Lascars—native sailors who were the first Indian immigrants in England.
The book is a search for faith with the help of a saint and a faithful servant.
The eBook is available on Amazon.com, Barnes&Noble, Google books. Flipkart.com.
I loved the book. I have had a strange fascination for Henry VIII. Perhaps it was the Herman’s Hermits song fifty years ago, ‘I’m Henry VIII, I am,’ or the movie ‘Anne of the Thousand Days,’ with Richard Burton as the king. Perhaps it is the tit-bit that a cannon ball used in Shakespeare’s play Henry VIII burned down to ashes the famous Globe Theatre. Most probably it was an interest in the Tudors as a whole in English history.
The book is really a biography of Thomas Cromwell. It is a fictional biography filled with exciting details about the blood steeped throbbing heart of the butcher’s son who rose to be the King’s right hand man.
The book brings to life the family drama of Henry VIII, his first wife Catherine of Aragon and his second in Anne Boleyn. Dark and poignant. Thomas More and Cardinal Wolsey come alive through a new verbal lens handled superbly by Ms Mantel. The book is a magic portal into the early sixteenth century. It is a time machine in the guise of a book. A must read for historical fiction lovers. Hilary Mantel is a deserving winner of the Booker Prize twice over.
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