A Great Lost Civil War Story

In the summer of 2004, a collector in Roanoke, Virginia, purchased a box stuffed full of an odd collection of documents. The container held ticket stubs, a college transcript, hand-drawn maps, newspaper clippings, and both typewritten and handwritten letters and stories. Examined closely, the materials revealed themselves to be the papers of George S. Bernard, Petersburg lawyer and member of the 12th Virginia infantry regiment during the Civil War.

Steinbeck, War Reporter

Beginning in late 1966, John Steinbeck, roughly the age of the century, spent several months in Southeast Asia, covering the war in Vietnam for Newsday. His reports back home, published now in Steinbeck in Vietnam: Dispatches from the War, constitute the Nobel laureate’s final published work. Steinbeck’s reports took the form of letters to Alicia—a tribute to Alicia Guggenheim, the late publisher and editor of Newsday. In them, he applied his naturally superb eye to a scene that eluded comprehension, “a war not like any we have been involved in.” The Huffington Post has posted a typically eloquent, searching letter here. Positive reviews are in from Shelf AwarenessPublishers Weekly, and Kirkus.

Steinbeck is most associated with Depression-era works such as The Grapes of Wrath. But, says Steinbeck in Vietnam editor Thomas Barden, “Steinbeck always wanted to be where the action was.” His reports were complicated by the fact that, despite his rather left-leaning past, Steinbeck was no dove. While not as important as Steinbeck’s novels, Barden feels these dispatches “have the spell-casting power of Steinbeck’s great works of fiction. They have his trademark immediacy and passion.”