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06 April 2010

Book Review: In The Shadow of the Cypress by Thomas Steinbeck

Title: In The Shadow of the Cypress
Author: Thomas Steinbeck
Publisher: Pocket
Publication Date: April 6,2010
Hardcover: 256 pages
ISBN: 978-1439168257
Genre: Historical Fiction


From the Publisher:

In 1906, the Chinese in California lived in the shadows. Their alien customs, traditions, and language hid what they valued from their neighbors . . . and left them open to scorn and prejudice. Their communities were ruled—and divided—by the necessity of survival among the many would-be masters surrounding them, by struggles between powerful tongs, and by duty to their ancestors.

Then, in the wake of natural disaster, fate brought to light artifacts of incredible value along the Monterey coast: an ancient Chinese jade seal and a plaque inscribed in a trio of languages lost to all but scholars of antiquity. At first, chance placed control of those treasures in the hands of outsiders—the wayward Irishman who’d discovered them and a marine scholar who was determined to explore their secrets. The path to the truth, however, would prove to be as tangled as the roots of the ancient cypress that had guarded these treasures for so long, for there are some secrets the Chinese were not ready to share. Whether by fate, by subtle design, or by some intricate combination of the two, the artifacts disappeared again . . . before it could be proved that they must have come there ages before Europeans ever touched the wild and beautiful California coast.

Nearly a century would pass before an unconventional young American scientist unearths evidence of this great discovery and its mysterious disappearance. Taking up the challenge, he begins to assemble a new generation of explorers to resume the perilous search into the ocean’s depth . . . and the shadows of history. Armed with cutting-edge, modern technology, and drawing on connections to powerful families at home and abroad, this time Americans and Chinese will follow together the path of secrets that have long proved as elusive as the ancient treasures that held them.

This striking debut novel by a masterful writer weaves together two fascinating eras into one remarkable tale. In the Shadow of the Cypress is an evocative, dramatic story that depicts California in all its multicultural variety, with a suspense that draws the reader inexorably on until the very last page.

My Review:

In the Shadow of the Cypress by Thomas Steinbeck is a unique story told primarily through the journal entries of Dr. Charles H. Gilbert beginning with the China Point fire of 1906. China Point was a fishing village and will prove later in the novel to be a pivotal point of mystery and intrigue. Before that point the reader is taken back to when Dr. Gilbert first became acquainted with and hired, William "Red Billy" O'Flynn to work one day a week at Hopkins Laboratory. Dr. Gilbert finds it noteworthy that O'Flynn has been accepted into the Chinese community completely. One day O'Flynn makes an extraordinary find when helping to fell a 400-year-old Cypress. He shows these finds to Dr. Gilbert who is allowed to take rubbings of the markings to send off to Stanford for translation. These findings could indeed shake the very foundation of who first discovered North America. Around this time, O'Flynn tells Dr. Gilbert he has been offered full employment with the Southern Pacific Railroad and while he would rather not return to their employ, it is too great an opportunity to pass up. At this point the story begins to truly take off and the reader is taken on a winding path of a complex, exciting, and multi-generational plot. In the Shadow of the Cypress is an excellently written novel, a bit difficult to get into, but worth persevering, especially if one enjoys a clever story line told over a large span of time, culture, and history.

About the Author:
Thomas Steinbeck began his career in the 1960s as a combat photographer in Vietnam. Known best for his short stories, his collection Down to the Soundless Sea won critical praise. Along with his writing and producing obligations, Steinbeck is in demand as a public speaker where he lectures on American literature, creative writing, and the communication arts. He lives in California with his wife Gail.

I received a complimentary copy of In the Shadow of the Cypress by Thomas Steibeck from Simon & Schuster as part of the tour. Receiving a free copy in no way reflected my review of aforementioned novel.



Sharon's Garden of Book Reviews said...

Nice review, Jennifer!

NancyO said...

Thanks, Jennifer. I'm moving it up on my tbr list!

Carol said...

Sounds like a really interesting story. If I pick it up, I'll have to remember what you said about it being hard to get into and keep reading until it grabs me.

Rebecca Camarena said...

I wonder is this author is John Steinbeck's son. If it is I'm buying the book. Thanks for posting it here on your site.