This travelogue by John Steinbeck is very close to my heart, not because of great writing but due to the idea of such a travel. Literature wise, many of his other books like “East of Eden” are really great, but “Travels with Charley: In search of America” makes you crave for such a journey. During the end of his career, he took a road trip in a specially designed camper named Rocinante along with his French Standard poodle “Charley” around the United States. This book is the story of that journey.
His journey started from Long Island, New York and followed the outer boundary of America from Maine to the Pacific Northwest, down to California, across to Texas and then back to New York. His idea was to see his country with his own eyes about which he had written so much and he wanted to do it alone but still took Charley along with him for some company. He has written about the places he visited and people he met during this time. He was trying to understand the people of his country but in the end he felt that they did not live upto his expectations. The book ends in an irony where after travelling for the length and breadth of country he gets lost in traffic of New York at his return.
For me, just the idea of such a journey itself is fascinating and while reading the book, I had silently made a promise to myself that someday, I will take up such a journey.
I have always felt that travel and writing/reading are somehow related to each other. Travel to different places open up your eyes to the world and reading during travel is also a great pasttime. But this is a material for some other writing that I will do some other time.
I was introduced to Steinbeck’s writing through “Cannery Row”, a book that I got as a birthday gift. After that I have read many of his books and I have always found myself getting surprised and fascinated by his writing. I read “East of Eden” long time ago and I really do not remember the whole of story now. But there are certain things from the book that have remained with me through all these years.
“East of Eden” has a biblical reference and is considered a place to which “Cain” chose to flee after murdering his brother “Abel”. Steinbeck has taken that as the basis of the book and has built a story around it.
The concept that has remained with me is related to what happens when a child goes through various stages while growing up. In the beginning, for a child, everything done by parents is right. The child learns from parents and parents have all the answers for their kids. At some point though, the child will realize that parents do not have all the answers and it is not necessary that they are always right. That moment in child’s life can be very difficult because one most important pillar of his own thoughts and values is broken at that time. At that stage, the child is most vulnerable because he or she starts looking out for some other inspiration or hero in life and depending upon who becomes the hero, the life of child can take a different turn. Before I read the book, I had never looked at this idea but after reading it in the book, it seems so natural.
This book is truly a literary masterpiece not only in terms of scope of story but also provoking to talk about moral and ethical values, right and wrong and how the most important thing in life is the ability to Choose.