Steinbeck lays out the purpose of his trip to the Soviet Union with the photographer Robert Capa in 1946. This was the height of the Cold War and many people doubted they’d be allowed near ordinary Russians.

They certainly told a good story, and it seems they did pretty well in getting to a few of the Russian (and Ukrainian and Georgian) people. 

We wanted to get to the Russian people if we could. It must be admitted that we did not know whether we could or not, and when we spoke to friends about it they were quite sure we couldn’t.  We made our plans in this way: If we could do it, it would be good, and a good story. And if we couldn’t do it, we could have a story too, the story of not being able to do it.

Still, this is a rare acknowledgement that the story of not being able to do something can be worth telling. 

Note that even though they also visited Ukraine and Georgia, Steinbeck often uses ‘Russian’ to refer to anyone in the Soviet Union.  When I read this book this was a detail, though one I couldn’t help noticing.  Now, in the midst of a war which seems aimed at annhilating Ukraine as a country and a nation, it appears Steinbeck was unwittingly influenced by an imperialist mindset. 

Source: John Steinbeck, A Russian Journal, with photographs by Robert Capa (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1999 (1948)), p. 4

Photo credit: langll at pixabay


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