In the Shadow of the Cypress

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9781439169919: In the Shadow of the Cypress
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Thomas Steinbeck has been praised by Publishers Weekly for his stylistic brilliance and “accomplished voice.” Now, his enthralling novel In the Shadow of the Cypress blends history and suspense with literary mastery and brings vivid realism to California’s rich heritage.

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 theperilous search into the ocean’s depth . . . and theshadows of history. Armed with cutting-edge, moderntechnology, 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.

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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.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:


JOURNAL EXTRACTS OF
DR. CHARLES H. GILBERT


Stanford Professor of Marine Biology

“True wisdom comes at great cost.
Only ignorance is free.”

—TAOIST PROVERB

IN 1906, AT THE TIME these entries were written, Dr. Gilbert was a highly respected instructor and researcher at Stanford University’s Hopkins Marine Station in Pacific Grove, California.

Dr. Charles Lucas

Stanford University

Department of Marine Studies

2008

Partial diary entry: June 1, 1906

The raging China Point fire was an experience that must be forever etched in the memories of everyone who witnessed the tragedy, though I presently suspect there were those who perceived only profit in the flames. On the night of May 16, 1906, aided by predictably seasonal winds from the southwest, the fifty-year-old Chinese fishing village on China Point was completely burned to the ground in less than one hour. It was the most horrifying conflagration I have ever witnessed. My heart was wrenched with concern for the poor occupants of the village, and I feared the worst for the plight of those trapped in their shanties. The dwellings seemed to burst into flame like boxes of kitchen matches, but there was nothing anyone could do without suffering death for their efforts. By dawn the whole village was nothing more than a black, smoldering skeleton. It was only through the grace of a merciful God that no Chinese were killed in the racing inferno. But it is a certainty to all witnesses that they had lost most of what they once possessed, including some of their nets, sheds, and beached fishing boats.

The fire’s ignition point was most certainly a Chinese-owned hay barn at the south end of the village, and I’m persuaded the deed was initiated with the strong seasonal winds in mind. Though it disturbs me to say so, I am thoroughly convinced that the consequential inferno was the result of a determined and planned act of arson.

If armed with the perspective of hindsight, one can easily deduce that the following narrative has roots that stretch back more than sixty years, and perhaps more than several hundred years if the truth was known. The one person who might be said to have set the engine of destruction in motion is a strange fellow who I came to know in early June of 1898. The man’s name, appropriately enough, was William “Red Billy” O’Flynn.

By any definition, Mr. O’Flynn is a unique-looking individual. Roughly in his midforties, weathered and apparently used to hard labor, the man comes across as keen and observant, and considering his lack of formal education, he shows good sense in most all things. His novel appearance, despite his being born in Ireland and saddled with a brogue broad enough to occasionally make his speech almost incomprehensible, bespeaks a colorful parentage. He once volunteered that his mother’s people were of Moorish blood. “All thoroughgoing Gypsies to the bone,” he said, and “all armed to the teeth with endless batteries of the most chilling curses imaginable.” He had thus inherited his mother’s soft, dark complexion and black eyes, as well as a moderate knowledge of European Spanish, which our local Mexican population disdains for historical reasons.

Mr. O’Flynn’s father, according to his son’s recollection, was “a large and dangerous fellow with a ruddy, moon-pocked face, and hair as red-crested as God makes a peckerwood.” As a result, the young man also inherited a prodigious mane of copper-bright curls. And though he possesses marginally pleasant features, and a muscular physique tempered by hard labor, the abiding contrast between his dark Mediterranean complexion and his vivid red crown of hair is truly a most striking sight to behold. One never quite gets used to his appearance. Every time I came across him at his duties, it was like a novelty surprise all over again.

Only once did Mr. O’Flynn reveal a portion of his history to me, and to this day, knowing his verbal habits as I do, I can’t imagine what inspired him to do so. It was on the day that he first applied to me for part-time work at Hopkins Laboratory. I suppose that, as I was the prospective employer, he felt somehow compelled to reveal that he “first drew breath overlooking the tar-blackened docks of Cork.” His father was a brawling shipyard-pipe fitter, “built like a Birmingham brickbat, but lacking all the wit and modesty God gave a cobblestone.”

Mr. O’Flynn gave me to understand that when he was fourteen years old he escaped Ireland altogether. His father, he said, had long since matriculated well beyond his amateur standing as a tavern tippler, and had gone on to become a renowned professional whiskey drinker. This all-too-common situation, with its predisposition toward physical cruelty, evidently distressed the family sorely. At last Mr. O’Flynn’s long-suffering mother
felt she had endured more than enough. Circumstances obliged her to call forth her mortal quiver of Gypsy curses. Two days later, the senior O’Flynn was discovered facedown in a rain-filled gutter. The coroner formally declared that the notorious and unrepentant boozer had drowned in three inches of rainwater.

I record this here only in passing, because this tragic incident seems to have deeply influenced Mr. O’Flynn, for as far as I can deduce, he has always expressed a total aversion to alcohol. He impresses me as the driest Irishman I have ever encountered. He has for some years been confirmed to the Methodist faith and vehemently speaks against the use of spirits, as well as “all those misbegotten fools what do indulge.”

On the whole, I have always found Mr. O’Flynn a man of simple, if somewhat cautious, honesty. As far as I can discern, he has always spoken the truth, but only as much truth as warranted by the question. On most occasions his natural reticence induces him to say as little as possible, and with the greatest circumspection. Unlike most of his race, Mr. O’Flynn never indulges in idle conversation or even bemused observation. In fact, for an Irishman, he exhibits not the least vestige of Celtic humor. However, he is at all times a stable, capable, and dependable worker, whose efforts rarely if ever draw the slightest criticism from myself, or the laboratory staff.

When Mr. O’Flynn first applied to me for a job, he stated that he had worked for the Southern Pacific Railroad for twelve years. He said he had started as a gandy dancer and worked his way up to roadbed foreman with a crew of twenty men to supervise. Then one day a slowly passing engine accidentally ruptured a steam release valve on a piston feed line and badly scalded Mr. O’Flynn and four of his crew. Two of his Chinese workers later succumbed to their burns by way of infection, and O’Flynn almost died himself. Happily, he was pulled back from the brink through the careful ministrations of his hard-nosed Portuguese wife. She bartered housecleaning chores for burn creams and pain medications; these were compounded for her by Charles K. Tuttle’s Pharmacy and given to her at cost. When he later asked the Southern Pacific regional manager for compensation to cover the expense of his injuries, Mr. O’Flynn was given seventy-five dollars and told that he need not come back to work, as his position had been filled in his absence.

The Chinese victims of the accident received forty-five dollars each, and the families of the dead were given thirty-five dollars to help defray burial costs. These latter particulars concerning Mr. O’Flynn I eventually learned from Mr. Tuttle, but only after I’d already engaged Mr. O’Flynn on a part-time basis. Indeed, once I understood the man’s predicament, I found myself quite pleased to be of some small assistance in his financial restitution.

I soon discovered that Mr. O’Flynn kept himself adequately solvent by working six part-time jobs every week. On Mondays and Tuesdays he worked for the county on a road maintenance crew. On Wednesdays he came to us. He was taught how to properly clean fish tanks and assisted with all the equipment maintenance at the laboratory. Thursdays O’Flynn worked making deliveries for Tuttle’s Pharmacy, or carefully dusting the hundreds of large glass-stopped medicine bottles that lined all the walls. On Fridays he ran a steam-saw for Thomas Work’s wood yard. But Saturdays were O’Flynn’s special delight, for he alternated between carting and stocking at Steiner’s grocery store and working at Mr. Hay’s ice cream parlor. He cleaned the large copper kettles in the candy kitchen and redressed and oiled the stone taffy tables. A bemused Mr. Tuttle helped him find these additional jobs when he realized that Mr. O’Flynn was in possession of a sweet tooth the size of Seal Rock. The proprietors of both establishments proved very generous with free samples and token prices. His Sundays were just as regular. The mornings were spent worshipping at the First Methodist Church on Lighthouse Road. And, weather permitting, his Sunday afternoons were dedicated to fishing for the Sabbath table with his Portuguese father-in-law. In general, one would appraise all of Mr. O’Flynn’s habits as quite regular, sober, and disciplined. I must here record that these factors, like the man’s sobriety, are indisputable facts that should be taken into account for later consideration.

There was one additional curious facet to Mr. O’Flynn’s social intercourse within the local community. Though he seemed to possess few friends besides relatives acquired through marriage, he spent much of his free time in the company of his Chinese acquaintances. In particular, he was often seen associating with the well-to-do proprietor of a successful Chinese laundry in Pacific Grove. This rather popular fellow goes by the name of Master Ah Chung. O’Flynn has also been known to keep company with Ah Chung’s younger brother Jim Len. I have since been informed that despite all modest appearances to the contrary, both these gentlemen are alleged to be heavily involved in diverse business interests up and down the California coast. It is widely believed that they receive lucrative stipends from the Three Corporations of San Francisco. This mysterious organization represents the most powerful Chinese clans in California. It is under the auspices of these secretive and financially powerful families that ninety percent of all Chinese imports and exports are bought and sold.

The improbability of our Mr. O’Flynn enjoying social congress with the Chinese stood out as an oddity, until I recalled that he had worked for years supervising Chinese road gangs for the Southern Pacific. And it appears that during his time in that capacity he learned to speak a fair smattering of Cantonese, which I understand is the predominant dialect spoken among our local Chinese.

I discovered these obtuse facts quite incidentally one summer day about thirteen months after Mr. O’Flynn came to work for us at Hopkins. One afternoon a Chinese fisherman and his wife came to visit the laboratory from China Point. They accompanied a rude donkey cart that had been tailored to carry a shallow wooden tub four feet in diameter. The tub had a two-sided hinged lid to keep its contents from splashing out. As they walked along, the fisherman’s wife worked a clever double-channeled hand-bellows. This device, I later learned, pumped a steady flow of air into the tub through a hose end wrapped in a sponge. They had come to our laboratory with a very rare specimen indeed. It was a small, black-skinned, deepwater shark. They had caught the ruby-eyed creature on a deep trotline over the Monterey marine canyon.

I should note that there are a good number of Chinese fishermen on the bay who specialize in hunting unusual species of marine life specifically for their use in an assortment of esoteric Chinese pharmacopoeias. I’m given to understand that the export market for these perplexing products is thriving. Commodities like preserved sea cucumbers, sea urchins, needle fish roe, basking shark eggs, and various species of small kelp crabs and azure-colored sea snails are in great demand. All these and many more are highly prized, and can easily pull their weight in gold or silver on the export tallies.

The visiting fisherman and his wife bowed and introduced themselves in thick pidgin English. The man said that Master Ah Chung had sent them along with something special.

As my negotiations for the exotic shark continued, our Mr. O’Flynn suddenly appeared. Smiling broadly, and in a torrent of pidgin Chinese, Mr. O’Flynn suddenly greeted the fisherman as an old acquaintance. They spoke together rapidly for a moment, and then O’Flynn turned to me and asked what price the fisherman asked for the shark. I told him we had settled on a price of two dollars. Mr. O’Flynn quickly confirmed this with the fisherman, and then turned back to me and said, “For two dollars he’s making you a present of the fish, and he’s delivered it more or less alive, no mean feat if you ask me, but he’s done it only at Master Ah Chung’s insistence. You can safely wager there’s some binding obligation involved. To be sure, you’re barely paying for this fellow’s time. He tells me the shark’s liver alone is worth five dollars, and the tanned skin another twelve. I’ll be begging your pardon for the impertinence, Professor, but if I were you I’d up and give this good fellow eight dollars. That way he can honorably fulfill Mr. Ah Chung’s instructions and perchance realize a pittance of profit so as to save face with his family.”

O’Flynn grinned, winked, and went on. “Mark what I say, Professor, the good word will soon race about that you’re an honest man of business, and before you can recite the saints’ names, you’ll be up to your braces in all manner of fishy God-knows-what.”

I managed the transaction just as Mr. O’Flynn had so earnestly recommended, but I did so in a confused fog of amazement at his hitherto unknown, and totally unsuspected, ability to make himself perfectly well understood in brogue-laced pidgin Chinese. I was dumbfounded to say the least, but I paid out the eight dollars all the same, and was later happy to have done so, for we managed, with constant diligence, to keep this rare specimen alive and healthy for almost fifteen weeks.

The fisherman and his wife were quite pleased with the arrangement, and a minor festival of bowing, smiling, and amicable chatter ensued. It was then I noticed that the fisherman and his wife treated Mr. O’Flynn with particular deference that entailed bowing even lower with hands clasped together as if in prayer. I found this more amusing than interesting, and didn’t reflect on its significance at the time.

After I had instructed some of my more stalwart students to transfer the exhausted shark to one of the large, bay-fed tanks, the proud fisherman and his wife happily took their leave. I recall that they departed in the company of our Mr. O’Flynn, all the while chirping a seemingly endless exchange of Cantonese salutations and polite laughter.

The discovery of O’Flynn’s hidden linguistic talents opened new and vigorous channels for acquiring specific species for our research and preservation. Mr. O’Flynn even suggested that a reasonable bounty be paid for specimens delivered alive and in reasonable health. This we did to great effect. The demand for our scientifically preserved laboratory specimens had grown fivefold in five years. We at Hopkins soon found we were servicing six other universities, as well as smaller research institutions. We even managed to set aside a complete catalog of preserved specimens to satisfy the needs of the state biologists for whom the Hopkins Marine Station is almost a second home.

Mr. O’Flynn, though he was only employed every Wednes...

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Book Description SIMON SCHUSTER, United States, 2011. Paperback. Condition: New. Reprint. Language: English . Brand New Book ***** Print on Demand *****. Told partially through the journals of Doctor Charles H. Gilbert, a Stanford professor of marine biology in 1906,the novel delves into the mysterious discovery-and subsequent disappearance-of ancient inscribed jade artefacts on California s Monterey Peninsula. If real, these objects would indicate an Asian presence much earlier than thought in the New World. When the Chinese fishing village on China Point where the artefacts were found is burned to the ground in less than an hour, arson is suspected. But who would do such a thing, and why? Controversy surrounds these stones and causes conflicting opinions about the proper fate of these artefacts. Should they be sent home to China or reburied where they were found? A wealthy Chinese businessman wins out and agrees to pay for their transport back to the homeland. He sends his nephew down from San Francisco to insure safe passage. But a tragic explosion strikes the boat just as it is carrying these relics to the steamship that is to take them home and they are lost at sea. It s not until nearly a hundred years later that two young scholars, one a surfing marine biologist and the other an ancient languages expert, grandson of the original merchant, join forces and attempt to raise the sunken treasure with modern sophisticated devices. But even this might not be enough to thwart the wishes and wisdom of their powerful elders. Seller Inventory # APC9781439169919

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