East of Eden
by John Steinbeck

January 29, 2017 Book Reviews, Books 7

★ ★ ★ ★

East of Eden by John Steinbeck | Originally published 1952, this ed. 2002 | Penguin| Paperback $16

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 Steinbeck created some of his most memorable characters and explored his most enduring themes: the mystery of identity; the inexplicability of love; and the murderous consequences of love’s absence.

This book was a late addition to my Classics Club list. I’d tried to read Middlemarch and just could NOT get into it, so I asked for help picking a replacement and this is the title that was most commonly recommended. So — thanks, y’all, for convincing me to read this book!

I was a little intimidated by this chunkster, but needn’t have been. It’s true that it dragged a bit in spots and included some rather heavy-handed moralizing on the part of the narrator, but overall it read more like an old but clever relative telling an important family story — a kind of family story for the country as a whole, perhaps.

Plus, the prose was simply lovely. The content was not often lovely, no, mostly quite the opposite actually, but Steinbeck was unquestionably a master of prose. Take this example from Chapter 7 (no spoilers):

Time interval is a strange and contradictory matter in the mind. It would be reasonable to suppose that a routine time or an eventless time would seem interminable. It should be so, but it is not. It is the full eventless times that have no duration whatever. A time splashed with interest, wounded with tragedy, crevassed with joy — that’s the time that seems long in memory. And this is right when you think about it. Eventlessness has no posts to drape duration on. From nothing to nothing is no time at all.

Have you read East of Eden, or any other Steinbeck novel? How did you like it?


Publication information: Steinbeck, John East of Eden. Penguin: New York, 2002. Print.
Source: Personal collection.
Disclaimer: I am not compensated, monetarily or otherwise, for reviews of books or other products.

7 Responses to “East of Eden
by John Steinbeck”

  1. Rob

    I still haven’t read East of Eden, but I loved The Grapes of Wrath, Cannery Row, and Of Mice and Men. He’s a great writer, and he writes the most vivid characters.

    • Louise

      Oh yes, I was pleasantly surprised by the “realness” of the characters. I’m trying to decide which Steinbeck to read next!

  2. Nick @ One Catholic Life

    I’m a big fan of Steinbeck, but I did not like East of Eden at all. I tried it a few years ago and had to abandon it after reading the first third or so. I do, however, plan on watching the movie, since I’m also a fan of James Dean.

    • Louise

      Oh dang, don’t you hate when that happens, when an author that you otherwise enjoy gives you a dud? Oh, well. I didn’t even know that the movie had James Dean in it — definitely gonna have to add that to my watch list.

  3. Katie @ Doing Dewey

    Interesting! I’ve never read any Steinbeck and I definitely don’t imagine his writing being lovely. I’ve actually had an unreasonable prejudice against his books, just feeling certain I won’t like them. I should probably actually give them a chance!

    • Louise

      I had a kind of prejudice against Steinbeck, too, for some reason. Probably I was assigned one of his books in school and just blocked it out because making me read something for a grade is a sure way to get me to hate it. Anyway, I definitely recommend giving this author a chance!

  4. Joseph

    This has been in TBR forever, but I’m moving it WAAAY up now. I had no idea of the Genesis story allusion in the plot. I’m very intrigued now…though I stopped reading your review shortly after your synopsis. Thanks for that though, and bringing this MORE to my attention. I’ve not read Steinbeck extensively, but I’ve like all I’ve read.

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