Thursday, February 23, 2012

Review: "East of Eden" by John Steinbeck

From Goodreads:  The masterpiece of Steinbeck's later years--a vastly ambitious novel that is at once a family saga and a modern retelling of the Book of Genesis.

In his journal, John Steinbeck called East of Eden "the first book," and indeed it has the primordial power and simplicity of myth. Set in the rich farmland of California's Salinas Valley, this sprawling and often brutal novel follows the intertwined destinies of two families--the Trasks and the Hamiltons--whose generations helplessly reenact the fall of Adam and Eve and the poisonous rivalry of Cain and Abel. Here is a work in which Steinbeck created his most mesmerizing characters and explored his most enduring themes: the mystery of identity, the inexplicability of love, and the murderous consequences of love's abscence.

My Thoughts:  This review might be a little gushy but East of Eden was a huge surprise to me.  I was expecting a really long, dry book and I could not have been more wrong.  This was actually the best book I have read this year.  The writing is like nothing else; beautiful and descriptive without being too much.  Steinbeck's descriptions are amazing but he seemed to know when to stop before the descriptions became excessive.  The characters are wonderful; Adam Trask, Sam Hamilton and Lee are so three dimensional that it was almost as though they jumped off the pages.  I also thought it was interesting how he described Cathy Ames.  She was obviously a sociopath and he made her into a really scary character.

There are definitely a lot of biblical references and the emphasis on free will made for an interesting story.  There is a whole section devoted to the idea of 'thou mayest' emphasizing that one had a choice in everything.  I loved how Steinbeck continously pointed out that just because your parents were a certain way didn't mean that you had to be that way.  Cal fought with himself because he believed he was evil like his mother but in the end, with the help of his family, he realized that he had the choice to be his own person and not turn out like Cathy.

I normally don't include quotes in my reviews but here are two that really stood out to me:

-"'Thou mayest'-that gives a choice.  It might bet he most important word in the world.  That says the way is open.  That throws it right back on a man.  For if 'Thou mayest'-it is also true that 'Thou mayest not.' " pg. 301

-"At such a time it seems natural and good to me to ask myself these questions.  What do I believe in?  What must I fight for and what must I fight against?" pg. 131

Seriously, if you haven't read this book, do it now.  I can't believe I have put it off for so many years and I am so glad that I finally got to experience such a great story.  5 stars


  1. This is one of my all time favorite books, glad to hear you enjoyed it so much too! After reading your review I am thinking it might be time for a reread soon.

  2. I had the same reaction to this book. I wasn't excited to read it, but a friend highly recommended it and since I was in a book rut at the time I decided to give it a try and LOVED it.

    Your review makes me want to reread it. But my TBR pile is toppling over right now. No time to reread :)

  3. I, too, chose this book for my Twentieth Century Classic [Back to the Classics Challenge 2012] since I loved "Grapes of Wrath" and "Of Mice and Men". I just posted my review in which I had many of the same reactions as you. I even included your first quote. I'm nearly sixty years old and regret that it took me so long to read this fine book.

    Mary Beth

  4. Very interesting review.... I am always cautious with Steinbeck and I'm glad that you found this as enjoyable as you did!


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