East of Eden by John Steinbeck

John Steinbeck

 

I have not been looking forward to writing this review, only because this was such a huge, epic, sprawling read and how am I possibly going to be articulate about it? I really liked East of Eden (let’s be honest, I didn’t have high expectations going in) and I have just so many thoughts! I feel like this would’ve been good for a readalong. I have PAGES of notes, ya’ll. I mean technically I read it for the Classics Club sync read, but it’s not the same. Anyways…

So. East of Eden is set in Salinas Valley in California, back in the day – mostly early 1900’s. And it’s about two families – the Hamiltons and the Trasks. Adam Trask comes out to California with his pregnant crazy wife and buys land near that of Sam Hamilton and his family. After Adam’s wife gives birth and her crazy side comes out in a big way, he’s left on his own to raise his twin boys – the fair, easy-to-love Aron and the darker, more lonely Cal. The book is written with a lot of allusions to the Biblical story of Cain and Abel.

See, there’s so much I can’t say without giving away major spoilers, and I actually don’t want to ruin much for people. This kind of reads like an old farmer’s soap opera – there is so much drama happening in this book it’s ridiculous, but also NOT ridiculous and really believable and kind of touching. I am not a sentimental person much, but some of these characters and their inner struggle between good and bad actually got to me a bit. I’m sure there are plenty of papers written about how Steinbeck approaches the ideas of good and evil in men, so I’m not going to go into that except to say that it gave me a lot of food for thought, and I’d enjoy re-reading it with a group someday.

My favorite character was probably Lee, a Chinese man who works for Adam Trask and helps raise the boys. He was so wise, but also kind of sassy sometimes. Sam Hamilton was a good character, if a bit boring. But he was a happy, idealistic dreamer kind of guy and you couldn’t not like him. Cal was definitely my favorite character later in the book, which I wasn’t expecting. And Cathy (the twins’ mom)… she was one of my favorites only because she was batshit crazy and added a lot to the story. This would have been a boring ass book without her.

I’ve read Of Mice and Men by Steinbeck and found it boring and over-hyped. I read The Grapes of Wrath by him as part of a readalong that the awesome Laura hosted last fall, and while I started to fall in love with his writing a bit, I think I found his politics too off-putting and it had very little in the way of plot. But NOW I have a Steinbeck novel that I can say I genuinely enjoyed reading and would happily read again. I get why people say this is the best one, and why Steinbeck himself said that it was his greatest novel. I’m looking forward to trying more of Steinbeck’s other shorter works, but I don’t think any of them are going to compare to this at all.

Shall we end this with some of my favorite quotes? SURE!

“But I have a new love for that glittering instrument, the human soul. It is a lovely and unique thing in the universe. It is always attacked and never destroyed – because ‘Thou mayest.’ “

“He developed a love for poor people he could not have conceived if he had not been poor himself.”

“To a man born without a conscience, a soul-stricken man must seem ridiculous.”

“We have only one story. All novels, all poetry, are built on the neverending contest in ourselves of good and evil. And it occurs to me that evil must constantly respawn, while good, while virtue, is immortal.”

 

Sarah Says: 4.5 stars

 

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16 comments

  1. I’m still not sure how someone can not love and appreciate Of Mice and Men (which is the book that turned me onto Steinbeck, after I had to suffer through the truly atrocious The Pearl the year before). Those three – Of Mice and Men, The Grapes of Wrath and East of Eden fit together so clearly in my mind, it seems so strange to me that there are readers out there who can like one and not the others.

    But still – I’m glad you liked East of Eden. It’s probably my favorite – so big and full and wonderful. Definitely one that can be reread. Which reminds me…

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    1. East of Eden was written beautifully, but in my head it is so separate from The Grapes of Wrath, which was more of a political commentary/rant than a story. I MIGHT give Of Mice and Men another go some day, but I just wasn’t impressed the first time around. Maybe now that I have some more Steinbeck experience I’ll feel differently. Maybe.

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  2. Seriouslyyyy, I’m so glad you loved this! I’ve only read it twice (I’ve read The Grapes of Wrath waaaay more than twice, and I still love it BUT I think East of Eden has definitely taken it over as my favourite) but I know that I’m going to read it SO many times in life. Love love love love it. Did I mention that?

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  3. I’ll tell you a little secret: I do NOT like reviewing classics. Ack, it’s HARD! You did a great job with this review 🙂

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  4. That was such a fun review to read. I’ve only read the “little” Steinbecks: The Pearl, The Red Pony, Of Mice and Men, but not since I was in high school. Clearly I need to add at least one “large” Steinbeck to my TBR as an adult so that I can develop an appreciation for him that I didn’t exactly have as a teenager.

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    1. Aww, thanks! I do think that there’s something about Steinbeck that teenagers just wouldn’t quite grasp as well as they would in adulthood. But maybe that’s why the start with the shorter Steinbeck novels. If you decide to do a big one, I definitely suggest East of Eden! And maybe then The Grapes of Wrath. I think I might have felt differently towards TGoW if I read them in that order.

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  5. I’m ghlad you liked this because it gives me hope that I should read this one AND that I’ll actually enjoy it. I was surprised how much I liked Grapes considering I HAAAATED it in high school

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    1. I had mixed feelings about TGoW in the end. I think the politics just got in the way for me. But I super-love East of Eden. Read it! Read it! So we can talk about how crazypants Cathy is.

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  6. Amazing book. I’ve read it twice already and think this winter will be time for a third reading. I get something new out of it every time. So glad you liked it.

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