East of Eden – John Steinbeck

Posted 4 September, 2014 by Trish in Reading Nook, Review / 24 Comments

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East of EdenTitle: East of Eden
Author: John Steinbeck
Published: 1952; Pages: 601
Genre: Fiction (Classic)
Rating: Epic

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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?

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24 Responses to “East of Eden – John Steinbeck”

  1. Agree! I kind of had the same experience quite a few years ago when for some reason I read Tortilla Flat, for some reason. I fully intended to go on and read more Steinbeck, but I never did until the East of Eden Readalong last month. Loved it!

  2. Laura

    It’s been so many years since I’ve read this, and now you’ve made me want to read it again! And Grapes of Wrath!! Have you read it?

  3. I love this book and so glad to hear you enjoyed it. It’s my favorite Steinbeck though I think Of Mice and Men is just as powerful.

  4. I’ve been looking forward to this review. My son had to read it last summer (prior to sophomore year), and he didn’t care for the old feel. It is officially on my list.

  5. I always did love Grapes of Wrath and Of Mice and Men, but couldn’t get into some of the others- Cannery Row in particular. East of Eden was another great read, one I definitely want to revisit someday- but I feel like I need to read more of his works first!

  6. I read East of Eden in one of my college classes a few years ago. I loved reading it with my class and teacher because he pointed out all the symbolism. I would’ve got some of it, but not most of it without his help. It helped make the story more rich for me. I especially loved the concept of timshel. It’s a great book!

  7. I’m so glad you liked it! I did too. There’s a movie being made, with Jennifer Lawrence I think. I’m going to reread it a month before the movie release date, whenever that may be!

  8. I really enjoyed East of Eden. It’s one of my favorites. I also enjoyed the James Dean version except I think it stops before it gets good.

  9. I read this one about a year ago and loved the story of the Trask family, but didn’t love the book as much overall because of all the clutter (i.e. random philosophical ramblings) that was thrown in…getting it to almost 700 pages. I feel like the story of the Trask family could have been a really awesome 500 page book.

  10. Oh I’m so glad you read and liked East of Eden! It’s one of my all time favourite books. It’s so beautifully written, and raises so so many philosophical questions. Like you mentioned, the question as to whether we have a choice in the shaping of our lives is one that stayed with me a long time after I read the book. I also remember being in awe at how Steinbeck created such diverse characters, some flawed and despicable and others wise and loveable, but all so fascinating.
    Thanks to this post I’ve moved Steinbeck’s books that I haven’t read on top of my to-be-read list because really, it’s been far too long.

  11. I also enjoyed this one and wondered why i waited so long. For being an older book, the themes discussed are timeless. Characters are awesome, including evil (Kathy) and lovable (Lee). I enjoyed how my opinion of the brothers changed by the end of the story also. How are we as a person shaped?
    Makes me think about reading another of his. Friends always recommend Of Mice and Men.
    Great review and photo Trish :)

  12. I have read it twice and I loved it more the second time; its such a good book. Maybe its next summer’s reading project (this year’s was The Goldfinch).

  13. Yep! I loved it. I was initially intimidated by its size, not the author, but the pages flew. I’ve read a few others by JS and I thought this was just as good as The Grapes of Wrath and Travels with Charley, and it was much more interesting than The Winter of Our Discontent! It’s the sort of book that would be fun to discuss in a literature class, but I also enjoyed it simply for the plot and characters. Now to make time to re-read The Grapes of Wrath. It’s been well over 30 years since I read that chunkster!