John Steinbeck: East of Eden

Set in the rich farmland of California’s Salinas Valley, this sprawling and often brutal novel follows the intertwined destinies of two families—the Trasks and the Hamiltons—whose generations helplessly reenact the fall of Adam and Eve and the poisonous rivalry of Cain and Abel. Here Steinbeck created some of his most memorable characters and explored his most enduring themes: the mystery of identity; the inexplicability of love; and the murderous consequences of love’s absence.

Some books stick with you for a long time, and any time someone asks me for my favorite books East of Eden is always on that list. I read it back in college and it made an impression. However…I was getting to the point where I could no longer remember what it was about. That happens too, sometimes–I read so many books that they all run together. Even my favorites start to fade.

I found a perfect condition copy at a booksale recently, and so it was prime time to read it again. It was like I was reading a brand new book–I remember now Kate and her house, Lee and Mr. Samuel. But the deeper Steinbeckian themes were lost on me back then. I don’t think I even understood the title–East of Eden.

Besides being a wonderfully engaging family saga–a genre which I love to read (see The Thorn Birds and Gone With the Wind)–East of Eden is a near perfect allegory for the Book of Genesis. If you’ve spent any time at all in bible school, you should recognize the familiar characters right away. Steinbeck has twisted these narratives to fit a more American theme–picking up the Fertile Crescent and plopping it down in Salinas Valley.

East of Eden is one of Steinbeck’s longer novels, and can be a little intimidating if you’ve only read Of Mice and Men in high school lit class. But it’s by far my fave, and I’m so glad I went back for another take.


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