Radio Around the Globe
Music in the books of Literary Travel Bookstore Evenaar in Amsterdam.
‘In Amerika’ by Geert Mak; subtitle Travels with John Steinbeck.
Radio Around the Globe, our program on books from literary travel bookstore Evenaar in Amsterdam.
Radio Around the Globe’s topic today is ‘In Amerika’ from the Dutch author Geert Mak. Subtitle: Travels with John Steinbeck.
In 2010 Geert Mak made the same journey with his wife that author John Steinbeck had made with his dog Charley In 1960. That book was called ‘Travels with Charley.’ John Steinbeck, American writer of 27 books, including 16 novels. Steinbeck visited historical places during his travels in 1960, such as Little Bighorn, where the Native Americans effectively destroyed the American army in 1874. Geert Mak follows most of the same trails, does unusual observations and notices big differences between then and now. For example, in 1960 the ferocious struggle for presidency between Richard Nixon and John F. Kennedy had just begun. It revealed for the first time, with television being able to capture every horrific detail, how much influence the screen has. Nixon seemed pale and tired, Kennedy is bronzed and energetic and wins the debate. Steinbeck didn’t give it a moment’s notice whilst traveling.
Contrasts: Mak notices that Americans passionately use the word ‘home’ to describe where they live, but that nobody switches jobs or homes as often as Americans do. Steinbeck declares regarding this tendency to move around this much, that home is not a reality, but a general, deep-seated illusion; a national dream which was true once.
Before Steinbeck, in 1837, Tocqueville, a French writer travelling through America said: the entire civilization has melted together to form a middle-class. Early 20th-century Europeans would never consort with people from another social class, like the Americans would. Even Geert Mak saw a road sweeper start a conversation with the owner of an expensive car on his very first day: how much does it cost etc. Obama shook hands with a security officer while visiting 10 Downing street. Labour prime minister Brown wouldn’t dream of it. How much of Steinbeck’s journey is true, Geert Mak wonders. And how bad would that be? Steinbeck was born to entertain and he loved to exaggerate. A few factual errors aren’t that bad. And sometimes he believed his own stories.
Both Steinbeck and Mak travelled the country by car. As a train traveler, you come up a bit short in the US. Due to lack of oil, many used the train during the 2nd World War, including soldiers. After the war this rapidly changed: the car made his entry and trains were ignored.
Americans complain as much about their own federal government as Europeans do about Brussels. Czech composer Antonin Dvorak work in the United States at the National Conservatory of New York and in 1893 he wrote his American Quartet.
- Leon Carr/Leo Corday – See the USA in your Chevrolet.
Performer: Dinah Shore, song.
CD Rhino R275688 tr 13 time: 1.22
- Antonin Dvorak – String Quartet on 96 in F American’.
Performer: Skampa Quartet. Recording 1991.
Cd K10006-2 311 tr. 1 t/m 4 time: 23.38
Antonin Dvorak – From: Symphony no. 9 in E on 95 ‘Uit de Nieuwe Wereld’ part 3 & 4
Performer: Czech Philharmonic orchestra conducted by. Jiri Belohlavek. Recording 1989.
CD 11 1987 2 031 tr, 3 & 4 time: 19.47
When Steinbeck arrived in California, where he was born, it became more and more clear that the journey (Travels with Charley) took a lot out of him. California had changed a lot, he really missed his wife Eilein and he drops a large part of the planned route, disillusioned.
Steinbeck travelled for 11 weeks. In January 1961 he and his wife Eileen attend the inauguration of President Kennedy, on which day a huge snow storm blows over. Then he writes: in het morning the storm had died down, just as the journey had. The manuscript ends with: I now understand, the big mysterious America is a lot bigger than I thought and also much more mysterious.
‘In America’ by Geert Mak is a beautiful book in which we get an critical and well-considered view of America through personal stories from both Mak and Steinbeck. I completely agree with the Financial Times, who wrote: Geert Mak is the history teacher we all wish we had.
Recording: Sander Friedeman
Compiled and hosted by: Agnes van der Veld.
From the 4-CD box with songs on car travel in America: Hot Rods & Custom Classics
4a Henry Bellinger – Stick Shift
Performer: The Duals. time: 2.28
4b Robert Mitchum/Don Raye – The Ballad of Thunderroad
Performer: Robert Mitchum & Orchestra, conducted by Jack Marshall. time: 2.29
4c Leon Carr/Leo Corday – See the USA in your Chevrolet
From: Dinah Shore, song. time: 1.22
CD Rhino R275688 tr 3, 10 & 13 time: 6.17