East of Eden – John Steinbeck

California’s fertile Salinas Valley is home to two families whose destinies are fruitfully, and fatally, intertwined. Over the generations, between the beginning of the twentieth century and the end of the First World War, the Trasks and the Hamiltons will helplessly replay the fall of Adam and Eve and the murderous rivalry of Cain and Abel.

Like Alasdair Gray’s Lanark, there are certain books that you just know will become treasured reads even before the first page has been fully read. These special books also keep me awake at night, itching to write a review as soon as is decent and the coffee is brewed.

East of Eden is a sprawling masterpiece of a story, giving the reader far more to get their teeth into than the blurb could possibly convey, even if it were aiming to do so. Over generations the story tackles themes of revenge, love, good and evil, and a whole plethora of facets in the human condition.

Firstly, the reader is drawn in by the perfectly described landscape, and then once lovingly established, the believable and flawed set of characters is introduced.  I found myself interested in all their stories, from the side characters who rarely featured but whose fates were revealed, to the main protagonists who grew throughout the pages. 

I imagined many tragic ways that this story could be cruel to the characters, thankfully it turns out that my own imagination is much more grim than the author’s vision turned out and that is pleasing, yet it showed the depth with which I cared for the Hamiltons and Trasks. Rather than be a mere bystander I found myself truly invested in their journeys and I feared for their wellbeing.

The references to the book of Genesis were a bit too heavy handed at times for my liking but that is a small niggle and one which can be easily dismissed in light of the rest of the content of the book, and the universal questions about the nature of humanity and our place in the world.

East of Eden is a book that sprawls languidly, and I loved my time in the Salinas Valley, much the same as I did with other great epics like War and Peace, and A Suitable Boy. There is much to take away from this book, many of the character will stay with me, the themes explored will be mused upon with pleasure.

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27 Replies to “East of Eden – John Steinbeck”

    1. I don’t think I could ever watch the film now I’ve read the book, although I am curious to see how much of the subtext they managed to get into the film. It’s a fine book, I am so happy I read it, but annoyed with myself that it took so long to actually get to it.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Bible references sounds interesting to me! I was surprised that it was published in 1952. I love reading your encounters with the books you read, your voice radiates through that inspires readers to dive into books you are reading.

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      1. Thanks for the advice you gave me the other day on my reviews, I do enjoy sharing books with people, and I have so many I am excited to share, one day I will finally catch up.

        Liked by 1 person

  1. I remember it took me a while to get hooked on the story, but once we “clicked” I enjoyed a lot reading the book – especially the parts with Cathy 🙂 I agree that the references to the book of Genesis were quite difficult, but as long as you don’t get stuck on them, the story flows quite nicely.

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    1. Cathy is one of those memorable characters that will always haunt the reader’s mind. I found the Genesis more heavy handed than anything, it could have been a lot more subtly written but that’s just me being picky.

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  2. Thanks for your review; this is a classic I should have read, but never have. I saw the movie years ago, in my classic movies undergraduate days, and I have to say that though it was excellent and very intense and grim, it was also a bit of a Hollywood vehicle for James Dean. To be accurate, it was less of a vehicle than “Rebel Without a Cause,” and more of a serious movie, and his acting was quite up to snuff, but the marketing focused mainly on him, at least in the classics revue theatrical venue. But you should see it, I think, it’s very grippping, and I think that must be especially true if you’ve already read the book, which I haven’t.

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    1. I think I will get to the film at some point, esepecially as you recommend it, I do enjoy a bit of grim in my films. Recently I have become more appreciative of American literature, I blame my formative years for my slow reaction to the writings of your country.

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  3. It’s been a long time since I’ve read this book or seen the film. I think I enjoyed both, but can’t recall enough about each to do a comparison. I do recall that the book was intense, and James Dean’s efforts in the film to be recognized by his father to be heartbreaking.

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    1. The more I read of the comments, the more intrigued I am to see the film, although I will give it some time for the book to settle. I thought it was absolutely fantastic as a bok so if the film does half the job it will be a fine viewing experience.

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  4. I also liked this book, and I agree about the landscape and certain references being “too heavy-handed”. My only concern about the book was the presentation of female characters – I have never read a book where female characters were so unrealistically drawn. Cathy was the biggest issue for me – no matter how evil a person is and how much they can be drawn to darkness, WHO would choose extreme poverty, extreme humiliation and pain on purpose when there is an alternative to live rich and comfortable while being cunning, sly and evil at the same time (if they wish?) The character of Cathy and her actions (choices) made zero sense in this respect.

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    1. Cathy is a strange one, I did enjoy here evilness but you are right her choices were warped and not the logical choices that anyone would really make, although for that reason she seems for of an enigma, or at least that’s how I balance it in my mind. If the book were written now, she’d have her own spin-off series were they delved into that.

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  5. Like you, I came exceedingly late to American literature and I have read nothing by Steinbeck. My brother, who is a year younger than me was one of the first people I know who studied ‘Of Mice and Men’ for O’ Level; I think it is still set regularly for GCSE but I studied purely British/English books at school. I have tried in recent years to make up for the lack of diversity in my earlier years but it’s too late to make much progress! Thank you for your review, Ste J.

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    1. We had a few US books on our curriculum, The Great Gatsby was the most notable one that I can remember. I still need to read MArk Twain, I remember little from my previous readings of Tom Sawyer in my very young days. I’ve given up diversity to a certain extent as there is too much to catch up on but if I presented with a good book from anywhere and anywhen I will at least add it to the list, which is progress of a sort.

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  6. Hello my friend. I have had this post bookmarked to visit for too long, I know you’ve done many more since. I’m on a go slow (memoir overhaul, ongoing submissions, fractured ankle ya da ya) blogging wise so am horribly lax with visits but I am still ‘here’ keeping an eye on you (hope that doesn’t sound creepy!). I know Steinbeck country well having lived close by for almost 20 years. As an aside James Dean crashed and died a few miles from where we once lived out in the midde of parched California. So why have I not read East of Eden? I have no excuse. I have watched the film, of course… Thank you putting this gripping tale to the top of my TBR pile. Hope all is well with you and your family. Keep safe. Sherri

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    1. Sherri! I feel like a celebrity, now that I have deciced you are a stalker! Always happy to help reorder your TBR pile. It always seems to be the way that we read literature of a certain place when we aren’t there anymore, I wonder why that is, perhaps we crave other places, and the sense of escapism. I hope all is going well with the memoir and that you hear good news on that front soon, as or the fractured ankle, this has been a good time to rest it with enforced lockdown and such. I hope you are on your feet soon and doing a jig because eccentricity can help book sales, so I hear…

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      1. Haha…an eccentric stalker. Hmmm…that could be a good brand to go with! I’ll work on that jig as soon as this darn fracture heals. Submitting ongoing, thank you. Slow, frustrating, rejections, some feedback, honing, tweaking, and so on. Escapism is the key! Hope all is well with you and your family my friend, will catch up asap. Take good care, happy reading/blogging/writing and continue to keep safe!

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        1. It sounds frustrating, my friend. At the moment, I am struggling to find time to read and write but doing some walking and such. We did a bit of travelling recently too, which I will blog about soon, when the vlog is ready to post.

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  7. Thank goodness the library is partially reopened.
    My library card expired during the full lockdown.
    Well I haven’t read the book……. but I saw the movie! Lol
    I’ve been reading books from our blog pals. Lots of good writers out there!
    Take care of your family, be well!

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    1. Too many good writers and not enough hours in the day to keep up. I need to get involved with more blog writers but time is not my friend of late.

      I haven’t seen the movie so we balance each other out perfectly. Our libraries reopened recently but I daren’t add to the amount of books I have to read.

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