May 21, 2010
Book Review: In the Shadow of the Cypress by Thomas Steinbeck
Yes, the author Thomas Steinbeck is the son of John Steinbeck. The younger Steinbeck refers to his famous father in the Epilogue of his book, which deals with the possible visit of Chinese fleets to the coast of California years before Columbus discovered America:
" It was my father, a fine historical scholar in his own right, who long ago first suggested to me that the Chinese had visited and explored the west coasts of the Americas long before Columbus discovered which side of the planet he was on. ....When I later learned that Chinese anchor stones, quarried in China, had been discovered in Monterey Bay, I came to realize that my father must have been instinctually correct."
In the Shadow of the Cypress: A Novel by Thomas Steinbeck (Hardcover - April 6, 2010) is set in 1906 among the Chinese fishermen on the coast of California. After a horrific earthquake, an ancient Chinese jade seal and an inscribed plaque in three languages are discovered at the base of a giant uprooted cypress tree. The villagers try to keep the antiques but must compete with the major tongs in San Francisco for the artifacts. How they manage to keep them or not is the main theme of the novel. A century later, a young American scientist seeks the answer.
My comments: The novel is written in a formal, smooth style that is a pleasure to read. The premise of the book, that the fleets of Admiral Zheng reached the western coast before America was discovered by Columbus, has been the subject of several other novels that I know of. Steinbeck's story, set in Monterey and the northern coast of California, is unique in that he shows us the fishing culture of the early Chinese coastal villagers in that region.
The historical aspects of the book are very compelling. One thing that stood out for me is Steinbeck's claim that the cypress tree, which defines the northern Callifornia coast, (see the picture on the cover of the book). is not native to the U.S. or California, but is of Asian or Chinese origin. A mystery, indeed.
Thomas Steinbeck is also author of Down to a Soundless Sea (Ballantine Reader's Circle), 2003, a book about the settling of the Monterey Peninsula in the early 1900s.
Challenges: 100+ Reading Challenge, China Challenge, Support your Local Library Challenge