In Short: What makes a man who he is? And does man have control over his destiny? Or, a great big family saga spanning over three generations.
Why I Read East of Eden: I picked up a used copy years ago because I’ve heard such great things about Steinbeck’s fiction. But it sat, unread, intimidating me every time I glanced at it on my bookshelf. Finally I suggested it for my in person book club for a little bit of courage and hand holding. Oh, it’s also on my Classics Club list.
Thoughts in General: Why is it that we are intimidated of East of Eden. Because it’s huge? Or old? Though 60 years really isn’t terribly old and 600 pages isn’t impossible. No matter what the reason, I was scared to pick up East of Eden and dive in. And when I first started it and the narrator went on and on about the landscape of the Salinas Valley, I became very worried that this would be a snooze-fest.
How wrong I was!
Once I met the characters of East of Eden, I was hooked. Brothers Adam and Charles, crazy Cathy Ames, Lee the “Chinaman,” wise Samuel Hamilton, and the next generation of parallel characters. I couldn’t wait to pick the book up after I had put it down and learn more about this colorful cast of characters. But not only were the characters wonderful and flawed and fascinating and despicable, but Steinbeck’s writing is so surprisingly accessible. But not simple–when I was reading from my book I always had my pencil on hand and when reading on my ereader my finger was constantly highlighting passages (yes I have paper and electronic copies of the book).
It’s been a month since I finished East of Eden so I mostly want to tell you to go go go and read it, but that seems like such a cheat. East of Eden is a powerful and beautiful story that is timeless–the roots of the story follow the Biblical story of Cane and Abel and one of my absolute favorite parts in the book is when Adam, Lee, and Samuel are discussing whether we have any hand in shaping our lives, whether we can choose our own path. Much of the story follows the tough realities of life–the heartache, the foulness of human nature (I’m looking at you Kate!), failure to understand one another. But in the end I would like to think that East of Eden ends on a hopeful note.
“There’s a blackness on this valley. I don’t know what it is, but I can feel it. Sometimes on a white blinding day I can feel it cutting off the sun and squeezing the light out of it like a sponge…There’s a black violence on this valley. I don’t know–I don’t know. It’s as though some old ghost haunted it out of the dead ocean below and troubled the air with unhappiness. It’s as secret as hidden sorrow. I don’t know what it is, but I see it and feel it in the people here” (Samuel p 145).
Bottom Line: Read it. Relish in the beautiful prose. Get lost in the story. Feel a great sense of satisfaction upon reading the last word.
Have you read East of Eden? Do you have a favorite Steinbeck? Or are you one of those (like I was) who feels a bit intimidated?