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on April 9, 2016
This is a story about the endurance of the human soul, about choosing to be who you would like to be rather than believing you were cut with a mold that can’t be broken. But also it’s a story about forgiveness, the freedom of choice and the long road one must walk between one’s beginning and one’s end, and all the causes and effects in-between.

Steinbeck’s masterpiece, for to call it anything less is impossible, has left me with a sense of loss. When I came to the end of this epic tale of family and humanity, I felt abandoned simply because I ran out of words to read. I wanted to carry on in his characters’ lives, spying on their darkness, watching them evolve and bloom and outrun the forces haunting them. No book has made me feel quite so much sadness and excitement at once. Perhaps because I’m a writer, I relished the painterliness of Steinbeck’s prose. I turned every single one of its six-hundred and one pages at a furious pace, and yet I indulged and languished and roamed the landscape he had painted for me, and me alone.

The story is so personal, a reader might feel it is written for her. It is a story we must hear, a story we know, a story with which we can connect, as we do with all the ones passed down from civilization to civilization. We commune with great stories, religious accounts, epic tales, because we see ourselves most readily in them, and as Lee (one of "Eden’s" finest characters) says, that’s why we keep telling, and retelling, them from one generation to the next. Steinbeck draws on the "Old Testament," turning over the story of Cain and Abel and making it his, for us anew. And because we see ourselves in it—our good and evil—we devour his retelling as though it were medicine to save our soul, the cure for all our ails. But perhaps I exaggerate, indulging in the power of the writer a little too much. Or maybe I do feel my soul a little shaken by my experience, swept up in the writer’s magic. Either way, I am satisfied to credit Steinbeck for my joy at venturing into his Eden.

And it is the great landscape, the backdrop of his tale that speaks most readily to the reader. Steinbeck’s setting is in fact a large part of the whole. Like the characters he unearths, the soil on which they stand seems to reach for the sky, yearning to live too. You can’t read "East of Eden" without experiencing the tan valleys of Northern California and the lush green dales of Connecticut. You see his East and his West, you practically smell the air of each, and you believe the world he creates to be the same one in which you live. The opening of the book sets you up for that, tells you, dear reader, you will feel every ounce of nature’s beauty just as the narrator does; her dangerous flirtations, her permanency, her changeability, her gales, her forces, her perpetual and enduring spirit. We do not simply live in nature, but come from it. We embody it; all her forces. I think Steinbeck reminds us of this in such subtle and rare ways it seeps into the subconscious as we follow his narrator through the story of Adam Trask, Samuel Hamilton, and all the characters in-between and after.

“I remember my childhood names for the grasses and secret flowers. I remember where a toad may live and what time the birds awaken in the summer—and what trees and seasons smelled like—how people looked and walked and smelled even. The memory of odors is very rich.”

Effortlessly, Steinbeck strings you along with his prose, fooling you into not seeing the great and gargantuan task he is laying before you. “Timshel,” he teaches you. “Thou mayest,” the two words from "Genesis" that seem to speak most profoundly, for they admit to free will, and your ability to choose to rule over sin. John Milton’s "Paradise Lost" also speaks of this freedom, one in which man has often stumbled, misunderstanding his disobedience, his choice between good and evil. Steinbeck examines this idea throughout the narrative, and shows you the outcomes of those who struggle with the same, and it is in their differences that choice becomes apparent.

I have said little about the characters, the plot, the style and themes, and yet I have said everything I can about a work that has touched me so deeply. I will leave you with this short quote, said once again by Lee, the Chinese American who is the most philosophical, and enlightened of Steinbeck’s family of characters, the sage most inborn to the writer:

“But ‘Thou mayest’! Why, that makes a man great, that gives him stature with the gods, for in his weakness and his filth and his murder of his brother he has still the great choice. He can choose his course and fight it through and win.”
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on October 25, 2016
One of my favourite Steinbeck novels. This family drama spans across multiple generations, families and characters. While the broader concept is not entirely new (sibling rivalry is an ages-old yet deeply relevant issue, after all), Steinbeck's ability to create complex, often broken characters that are all too human gives the story new meaning. Cathy/Kate is one of the most interesting characters, but almost every person introduced throughout this story leaves some impression. But, as epic as the story is, and as complicated as the characters are, it is Steinbeck's writing that makes this book worth reading. He had the ability to describe things in such vivid detail while infusing such emotion into his words. This is by no means a quick and easy read - it is totally worth the time however.
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on March 20, 2017
One of my favorite books of all time. Builds sub -plots around the Bible story of Cain and Abel. In the book, we have the two brothers Charles and Adam and their relationship with their Dad. Later, Adam has two children again with the C & A names (Caleb and Aaron). Caleb and Aaron have some sibling rivalry also and of course Caleb gives a gift to his father to help earn his father's love but the gift is rejected. As with other Steinbeck novels, the ending is pretty sad. There are interesting sub-essays about creativity of individuals vs. groups, also a sub-essay about how both good and evil thoughts live in all of us and how that leads to some balance. Some characters in this book are distillations of just the evil or good side and perhaps those types of people do exist in life as well and have no balance. Story reads fast and by the end, the plot moves faster and leads to a strong ending.
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on March 5, 2017
I thought I hated Steinbeck; I'm a Victorian literature professor, and _Grapes of Wrath_ was the only book I didn't finish in college. Then, two of my best friends said they thought I'd love this book. When I got forty pages from the end, I got nervous because I didn't want to leave this book. It is one of my top 5 favorite books of all time. It's beautiful in all ways (language, thought, spirit), and the female lead character isn't "flawed" because she's a woman--she's just not a good person. And frankly, THAT'S refreshing.
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on May 29, 2017
From the outset, the narrator, the I, seems to be the author, and the family his own. Iindeed much is autobiographical. The book opens with a beautiful description of Steinbeck's beloved Salinas Valley. Throughout the narrative he self adoringly interrupts, as if to say like The Cat in The Hat... Look at me, look at me now! Chapter 7 is a Steinbeck lecture on Time; Chapter 8 is his sermon on evil. Usually Steinbeck doesn't show, he tells, translating for the reader. Chapters 11 and 12 begin with lecures, and they pop up throughout; in fact most chapters begin that in a 'Cat in the Hat' way.

It is said Steinbeck considered this his greatest novel, written from the summit a long life. He simply has to let the reader know that in these first person soliliquies. As always, the characters and the scenes are carefully, richly drawn, and believable. I find the most recurring themes are:
1) the relationship between fathers and sons
2) between sons, one an uncaring favorite, and the other who adores his father but is rejected: in other words, the story of Genesis, and of Abraham, Abel and Cain. As in Genesis it mainly feature men, but includes a rebellious Eve, or Cathy, who contributes to the brother's conflict, or the conflict between father and son, God and Adam. Even if Eve/Cathy is a strong and bad woman, like the whore house madam, the story is centered on men, fathers, sons, brothers, and male sibling rivalry, despite sincere brotherly love.
3) The good, innocent but dumb and weak brother vs the intelligent bad strong one. ( a typical depiction of the intelligent angry rebellious progressive as contrasted with the dumb gullible traditionalist that is seen and heard here and now!)

In Chapter 13 the narrator is revealed to be the child of Olive, possibly Steinbeck himself whose mother was Olive. Then the story begins to take control of the novel, setting the characters free from the author's editorial interruptions. Lee, the cook who habitually speaks in 'chinee' to avoid attention, revels he is a fully competent , highly educated and literate English speaker, a native Californian. Moreover he provides the order, intellectual guidance affection, and tough love that helps the sons survive. Adam's own adored pater familias, Samuel, speaks of the biblical reference to Cain's murder of Abel, with his subsequent banishment East of Eden. Samuel reads Genesis 4:6-7, from the King James Bible, this, originally written in Hebrew.:

"And the Lord said unto Cain, "Why art thou wroth? And why is they countenance fallen? If thou doest well, shalt thou not be accepted? And if thou doest not well, sin lieth at the door. And unto thee shall be his desire, and thou shalt rule over him."
But Lee points out that the Hebrew word is timshel... means thou mayest. not thou shalt.
Of course Steinbeck can't totally yield to the story; he injects typical Steinbeckianisms like:
'their shadows slid under them on the bright earth.' But who would not forgive that sin!

The story and the characters are now in control. In the end Cal, yet another son, hopes for a blessing from his dying neglectful father, another Adam. Lee, the acting good parent and cook, urges Adam to bless Cal: "Give him him a chance. It's not inevitable that (your family) keep producing fathers who pick favorites and siblings who want to kill each other.” He urges Adam to just say Cal's name, as a blessing; but Adam says "Timshel!", implying:
'Thou mayest decide whether or not to continue the curse, regardless of my blessing. Your choice. '
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on April 27, 2017
One of my new favorite books, possibly my absolute favorite. Like a lot of people, I first read Steinbeck's "Of Mice and Men" in high school and fell in love with his writing. But because this is his magnum opus and is, therefore, pretty long, I put off reading it. Now that I have a semester off between my bachelor's degree and graduate school, I finally picked it up and was not disappointed. It's stunning--the language, characters, setting, flow of the story and the Biblical parallels are just incredible. I'm also glad I went with the Penguin Orange version of this book: it's aesthetically pleasing (very old-fashioned but with the lovely illustrations on the cover) and well-made with almost no typographical/layout issues. And the price is great. So pleased with it I'm thinking of buying the other Penguin Orange Collection books.
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on June 25, 2014
Incredible epic built on the Biblical Cain and Abel story. Spanning three generations, the Trask family gave us the enthralling sibling rivalries of not just one pair of siblings of Charles and Adam, but also Adam's offsprings, Caleb and Aron. It was no coincidence that the three pairs of siblings, including Cain and Abel, had names beginning with C for the brothers with the dark side and A for the angelic ones. The As were doted by their fathers much to the chagrin of C's, who were angered by their neglect. The central theme stemmed from the controversial interpretation of the Hebrew word "timshel". Can the evil sibling overcome his evil nature and refrain from his evil inclinations? We saw Charles and Caleb possessed some good in themselves. For one, they loved their angelic brothers Adam and Aron respectively. Only during fits of blinding jealousy and anger, did they commit acts of cruelty which they regretted bitterly afterwards. While Lee may think that man has the freewill to triumph over evil, it was quite clear that all the three C's were born with the dark sides that were beyond their choice. Cathy Trask was born pure evil with no redeeming qualities. No, they had no choices over what innate qualities they were born with. Not their hair colour, not their appearance, and not their innate nature. It has always been God who had decided before time who will be evil and who will receive redemption. For me, East of Eden ranks higher than Grapes of Wrath and Of Mice and Men because of the very primeval and difficult theme of good and evil and whether man can overcome the evil nature that they are born with. Steinbeck gave us beautiful plots, endearing as well as abhorrent characters that bound our hearts like being addicted to a good soap opera. East of Eden is a very good soap opera about the Trask and Hamilton dynasty. It is egregious of Boxall to exclude this breathtaking masterpiece from his 1001 list. Why?
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on September 10, 2016
Steinbeck had the ability to hold a mirror up to our minds and souls all the while creating such a rich and layered story that is as wonderful and fascinating today as it was when he wrote East of Eden in the 1950s. All the characters are so well developed and so intimately revealed that it's hard to believe that they are works of fiction and not living, breathing and alive! This story has all the pathos, love, hatred and wonder that IS the human condition; yet Steinbeck lovingly peels back the skin to allow us to examine , understand and feel apart of all of our shared yearnings for love and acceptance in our lives. He also does this without biases; the male and female characters are equally rich; no subtle slurs towards either sex. This is truly an epic story with characters that will stay with you forever. This book is what is meant when you hear the term Great Literature !!
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on December 6, 2013
Many readers know that John Steinbeck famously wrote almost all of "The Grapes of Wrath" in one draft in under a year. Perhaps as brilliant as that was it has tainted our image of his talent to assume he could produce some a masterpiece with such seeming ease. Shouldn't we instead be wondering how the same person could write repeated classics that all retain freshness and originality into the modern day. His craft is to tell stories in the simplest of language that lures us into thinking it's a simple story.

"East of Eden" is just such a trap. The story flows with such ease and fluidity that one floats through it enjoying each passage from the ever deepening plot. But as one progresses through the book I'd hope one might appreciate the same profound awakening that hit me. "He wait a minute, these are very nuanced and rich characters and this is one very special story about one side of real America absent cliche or sell out to perception or expectation".

For me I could almost feel Glen Ford or Henry Fonda reading the story aloud. Steinbeck tiptoes between idealism and reality which such delicate footsteps. He has a common touch and a the brilliance of keen insight into the human experience. A reader is rewarded with dialogue earnestly debating good and evil and a storyline that captures a late 19th century/early 20th century America this is as well depicted as I have experienced.

There is brotherhood, love, deceit, exploitation, guilt, deplorable morals and inspiring characters. And overall there is a story that I thankfully knew nothing about prior to turning the first page and will therefore reveal nada here. So this is probably more a celebration than a review and I hope others will forever equally enjoy it.
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on January 6, 2015
Many of us read the book Of Mice and Men during our early high school years. Some adored it, some loathed it, and some slept through the whole thing. If you are like me, you adored the tale. Due to this admiration for John Steinbeck's novel, I decided to continue down his line of work and read East of Eden. Steinbeck depicts an innovative version of Eden through his characters and their actions. These situations, and those who partake in them, arouse a deeper understanding of sin and the power of change within the reader. The novel enlightens the reader by showing them that we all have the power to choose what happens in our lives. The relentless struggle between "good and evil" can transform the individual, according to the novel, as long as she exercises her power to choose.
Steinbeck's Eden is filled with a vast array of characters. The novel begins with Samuel Hamilton and the Trask family. As the novel grows, so do the two families. The reader embarks on a journey down the lineage of the two families. Depicting the loves, losses, triumphs, and failures, the beloved, and the despised, characters go through. The reader will come to adore the able Samuel as well as despise the monstrous Cathy. Steinbeck depicts horrendous situations while still allowing light, wit, and love to shine. Steinbeck writes in such a manner that the reader cannot help but love the characters, and bear a deep sorrow for the losses experienced in the novel.
Steinbeck, with his choice of characters and innovative interpretation of Eden, has created a plot that was destined to be interesting. The characters, plot, diction, and dialogue give an awe filled escape from reality. Unfortunately, this escape is one that the reader has to deeply desire. East of Eden is not a book for a reader looking for an "easy" read. The novel provides a reader with a deep journey. I deeply enjoyed it, but I had to focus to embark on it. Therefore, if you are looking for an easy read, this is not the book for you. If you are looking for a book with a deeper meaning that will provide you with vast entertainment, then go to your local bookstore and pick up a copy. The choice is yours.
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