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East of Eden: An Appreciation

By posted at 9:44 pm on October 31, 2004 1

coverI’ve crossed another classic off of my “to read” list, and boy am I happy I read this one. This was pure satisfaction from start to finish. John Steinbeck’s East of Eden is an amazing book that embodies the intersection of literary weightiness and readability. There are plenty of epics out there that span generations: Colleen McCullough’s The Thorn Birds or Isabel Allende’s The House of the Spirits, for example. Those books are a joy to read and you can luxuriate in the authors’ virtuosity as characters are added to weaving storylines, but East of Eden seemed to have more weight to it. Unlike many epics, which seem to thrive on love, unrequited or forbidden, Steinbeck’s book focuses on the struggles of brothers seeking their father’s admirmation. From the title alone, it is obvious that this notion is Biblical, and the book’s Biblical quality becomes its center. For the first time in a very long time, I did not rush through the book’s last chapters, eager to get to my next conquest. I felt that pang that you sometimes get when you finish a truly magnificent book, the pang that is part sadness at the experience of reading the book being over and part a feeling of that book permanently lodging itself in your memory to be drawn from and remembered with reverence. There are, I think, very few books that can produce this sublime reading experience, but East of Eden is on that short list.





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One Response to “East of Eden: An Appreciation”

  1. Matt
    at 2:16 am on June 17, 2008

    I've also read this… here is my review. You can also read more reviews on my reading log (http://sweetgypsymama.com/bookreviews/):

    Although Of Mice and Men proved to me the power of Steinbeck’s writing, East of Eden cemented the man as one of my favourite authors. Here Steinbeck tells a complex story, the intertwining relationship of two families over several generations, while never losing site of his reoccurring themes.

    Positioned as a love letter to his estranged home of the Salina’s in California he doesn’t shy away from all that is good and bad in the community, possibly it is this heartfelt honesty in storytelling that entices the reader and alienates those in which inhabit its setting. But here is the beauty of East of Eden, not only does he draw on the community in which he grew up, he weaves himself and his grandfather into the fray, all the while telling of their points of conflict with the fictional Trusks. A point of conflict rooted in the story of Cain and Able from the Book of Genesis twisted and contorted into Steinbeck’s Charles and Adam, and their offspring Caleb and Aaron. Far from being repetitious, Steinbeck finds the perfect balance in exploring the instincts of man, from murder to discrimination, friendship and love. A subversive allegory questioning religious fatalism.

    Of course, there may be criticism (a plausible thread throughout much of his work) regarding his portrayal of women, however, in a perplexing manner he does present the female characters as villains (Cathy), empathetic saviours (Faye, Abra) and strict taskmasters (Liza). In each case, these characters can be seen to have questionable motives, but could hardly been seen as weak, these are strong willed characters, often dominating their male counterparts.

    For my mind this really is one of the best books I have read, and it is fitting for Steinbeck to claim this to be his greatest novel.

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