East of Eden by John Steinbeck
Length: 602 pages
Genre: Fiction, Classics
My Rating: 4 stars
East of Eden is a sweeping multi-generational family saga that follows two families: the Trasks and the Hamiltons. The setting is the early 1900’s in Salinas Valley, California. This novel is considered Steinbeck’s most ambitious novel. When it was first published, it quickly climbed to the top of the fiction best-seller list. Steinbeck himself considered it his masterpiece.
Steinbeck crafted a story that demonstrates the complexity people can hold within themselves. The novel explores a multitude of themes including but not limited to depravity, guilt, freedom, rejection, self-acceptance, love and the absence of love. Deeply existential questions are explored. In addition, in his own way, I think Steinbeck tried to combat some prejudice mindsets prevalent at that time by portraying one of the characters that was subject to discrimination as one of the most beloved characters of the novel. That character’s name was Lee. Not only was Lee wise, loyal, educated, scholarly, and a great reader – he was also the stabilizing force and rock of the Trask family.
I am so glad I read this novel. In fact, after reading it I knew I wanted to re-read The Grapes of Wrath which I did back in April. (I didn’t particularly care for The Grapes of Wrath much the first time I read it.) You can read my review of it HERE. In East of Eden, Steinbeck wrote a gripping story that kept me turning the pages. The novel is at times brutal and disturbing. And at times it is beautiful. But at all times, the writing style and story are both gripping and engrossing. I was drawn into the story from the moment I picked up the book until the very end when, as I turned the last page, I sat stunned at the complexity and layers and magnificent writing.