Sunday, June 24, 2007

East of Eden

Title: East of Eden
Author: John Steinbeck
Country: America
Year: 1952
Rating: A
Pages: 567 pgs.

First sentence: The Salinas Valley is in Northern California.

To Steinbeck, there was only "one story in the world" (Ch. 34), the story of good and evil. East of Eden is his allegory of that story, and as its title suggests, he believed that story went all the way back to the beginning of mankind. In many ways it parallels the story of Cain and Abel. It is the story of the intertwining of two families, the Trasks and the Hamiltons. The settling and development of the Salinas Valley acts as a third story line, as Steinbeck describes the Valley in rich and vivid descriptions throughout the novel.

I remember that the Gabilan Mountains to the east of the valley were light gay mountains full of sun and loveliness adn a kind of invitation, so that you wanted to climb into their warm foothills almost as you want to climb into the lap of a beloved mother...The Santa Lucias stood up against the sky to the west and kept the valley from the open sea, and they were dark and brooding - unfriendly and dangerous. I always found in myself a dread of west and a love of east. (p.7)

East of Eden is filled with rich, complex characters. Some of my favorites are Samuel Hamilton, an institution in Salinas and the person through which Steinbeck disperses much of his commentary on human nature. Lee, is Adam Trasks' intellectual Chinese-American servant whom uses pidgin English with strangers because they understand him better than when he speaks fluent English. And then there is Cathy [aka Kate]. I believe there are monsters born in the world to human parents. Some you can see, misshapen and horrible...They are accidents and no one's fault, as used to be thought. Once they were considered the visible punishment for concealed sins. And just as there are physical monsters, can there not be mental or psychic monsters born? The face and body may be perfect, but if a twisted gene or malformed egg can produce physical monsters, may not the same process produce a malformed soul? (p. 72) Cathy Ames is the most complex and evil woman in the history of literature (that I have read). She is fascinating and repulsive all at once.

I was first captivated by East of Eden as a teenager, so it was interesting to go back and read the novel after 12 years (as I did with Grapes of Wrath in March). The first time I read the story, everything seemed a little larger than life. The second time around a twinge of tediousness set in here and there, but I was more fully able to understand and appreciate many of the universal themes I skimmed over the first time around. I still consider East of Eden as a masterpiece, standing beside Grapes of Wrath and other novels by Steinbeck.

East of Eden Trivia:
- Steinbeck kept a journal of daily letters to his publisher, that document the writing of his most difficult and personal work. It is now published as Journal of A Novel: The East of Eden Letters.
- Steinbeck acts as both the narrator of the story, and places himself and his family in the novel as minor characters. His mother, Olive Hamilton, is a daughter of Samuel Hamilton. One of the most amusing stories in the novel is the telling of how Olive won a plane ride for selling Liberty Bonds during the war.

This book marks my completion of the Chunkster Challenge. Yay!


Dewey said...

I read this long ago and can barely remember anything about it. But The Grapes of Wrath is one of my all-time favorites, so I should revisit East of Eden like you did! That book of letters to his publisher sounds fascinating.

Nyssaneala said...

@dewey - I remembered a lot more about this book than I did about Grapes of Wrath (which I also read in 10th grade). I was happy to find out that I still love Steinbeck as much as I did as a teenager!

Wendy said...

This one is sitting in my TBR stack for 2007 - and I will get to it before the dawn of 2008! Thanks for your wonderful review. Steinbeck is one of my favorite authors and I'm looking forward to reading this classic!

Laura said...

Believe it or not, I hadn't read much Steinbeck in school. "Grapes of Wrath" was the first book I read this year, and I adored it. When I found "East of Eden" at a library book sale, I snapped it up. I'm planning to read it for the Book Awards challenge and if I time it right, I'll be discussing it in October with the Yahoo Banned Books group.

Great review, now I'm looking forward to reading this one even more!

MyUtopia said...

I just adored this book!

Bookfool said...

I completely forgot I had East of Eden on the stacks, when I came up with my Chunkster Challenge list. I love Steinbeck; I really expected to dislike his writing because I heard so much moaning about The Grapes of Wrath in high school (I only had one lit class because we were allowed to substitute journalism for literature) but I thought it was amazing. Wonderful review and congrats on finishing the challenge!

Camille said...

I liked East of Eden (I was very scared of Kate) but I loved Grapes of Wrath. Also, I see you have two books on your list for the nonfiction challenge that I read when I was pregnant the first time-the Ina May book and Birthing from Within. I liked a lot of the activities in Birthing from Within. I had some issues with it, but it was essentially a helpful and fun book.

Joe said...

I just finished reading East of Eden. I really liked it and I thought it was worth my time to read. Steinbach's writing is amazing. Does anyone know why East of Eden was banned?

pricei5right33 said...

East of Eden has been subject to several attempts to remove it from library bookshelves. Called “ungodly and obscene” in Anniston, Ala., it was removed, then reinstated on a restricted basis in the town’s school libraries in 1982. Greenville, S.C., schools also saw a challenge to the book in 1991.

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