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