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.
Adam Trask came to California from the East to farm and raise his family on the new rich land. But the birth of his twins, Cal and Aaron, brings his wife to the brink of madness, and Adam is left alone to raise his boys to manhood. One boy thrives nurtured by the love of all those around him; the other grows up in loneliness enveloped by a mysterious darkness.
First published in 1952, East of Eden is the work in which Steinbeck created his most mesmerizing characters and explored his most enduring themes: the mystery of identity, the inexplicability of love, and the murderous consequences of love’s absence. A masterpiece of Steinbeck’s later years, East of Eden is a powerful and vastly ambitious novel that is at once a family saga and a modern retelling of the Book of Genesis.
What I Liked
The characters were fascinating. They were relatable and multi-dimensional, each having their own unique personality and quirks. No character was truly good, and no character was pure evil.
I loved the villain in this book who was truly selfish, unpredictable and malicious. Although I couldn’t relate to her, towards the end of the book I was glad to catch a glimpse of why she did the things she did, and what made her who she was.
Despite that this book was first published in the 1950s, it was surprisingly diverse and progressive. One of my favourite characters was a Chinese servant who spoke fluent English and was often wiser than the people he served.
Although there were references to the Bible in this book, it was never overtly religious. Being a non-religious person, I was still able to enjoy the story and the message it tried to convey.
The writing was amazing. Really loved the prose and the dialogue.
The characters and the message lingered with me long after I turned the last page.
What I Didn’t Like
East of Eden is 602 pages in print and 26 hours in audiobook format, and…. it actually felt longer than that. You guys all know how I feel about long books hahahaha.
The pacing was slow. It was very much a slice-of-life book that interwove the stories of various characters within multiple generations of two different families. It didn’t follow your typical story structure (ordinary world, rising action, inciting incident, climax, falling action.) And because of that, the plot didn’t have any urgency or forward motion. It was my love for the characters that kept me reading.
The Bottom Line
East of Eden was a memorable book about love and identity. I loved the characters, the message, and the writing. If you love a good literary classic and don’t mind a longer read and slower pacing, give this book a try!