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