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.