by John Steinbeck
completed October 2010
I had forgotten how much I love Steinbeck! Reading East of Eden brought back fond memories of when I was required to read The Grapes of Wrath over the summer before my junior year in high school. We had a paper due the first week of school. I remember all of my friends griping and groaning about having to read it, but I loved it. I checked East of Eden out from the library two other times over the past few years but failed to read it before it needed to be returned. I think I was intimidated by the length, but now I wish I had read it years ago.
East of Eden covers three generations of the Trask Family, the Hamilton Family, and the Ames Family. Their stories are individual until Adam meets Cathy, and subsequently moves to the Salinas Valley in Northern California. As you can imagine from the title, the stories parallel the stories of Adam and Eve, and Cain and Abel, as told in the Bible.
The characterization is so rich and deep. I adored Lee, the Chinese servant of Adam Trask. He was so wise yet humble and was wonderful father figure to the Trask boys, Aron and Cal. Samuel Hamilton was another favorite character with his compassion for everyone. He was an incredible friend to Adam when Adam most needed one. Cathy is also a memorable character as she is probably the most cold-hearted and calculating character I have ever read on page. I came to know these characters so deeply that I could anticipate their reactions to different situations. I knew how the story would end, but it didn’t bother me. It was not predictable because the plot was driving the story, but because the characters were.
Steinbeck’s writing is subtle but powerful. Although there are parallels to Bible stories, don’t fear reading it if you are not religious. It merely uses the Bible to outline a story of the struggle between good and evil. It's a tale of morality and poses the question of whether our actions are a result of our nature or if we have a choice. It also explores family relationships, especially between fathers and sons, and between siblings. There are examples of love and hate, acceptance and rejection, as well as compassion and apathy and we see the affects of such interactions play out over the generations. The ending made my heartache, but it was touching.
East of Eden is over 600 pages, but it did not feel that way. It read so quickly and I didn’t want to put it down. It has characters that come alive and is thought-provoking. Even two weeks after its completion, I often find my thoughts wandering to this story and its characters. It is now in my top ten of the best books I have ever read. I would highly recommend this to anyone.