Friday, 13 August 2010

East of Eden by John Steinbeck

I must have a lot of faith in Steinbeck. I have brought three of his books despite never having read any of his novels, normally I give an author a try once before buying their other books but I was convinced somehow that I would get on with Steinbeck's writing. I could have started with the much shorter Of Mice and Men but on this occasion I decided to jump straight in with the 600+ pages of East of Eden after being convinced by readers of this blog.

East of Eden follows two families; the Trasks and (to a lesser degree) the Hamiltons over three generations. This is an epic book that effectively tells the story of the families while also throwing up philosophical discussions and comments on human nature without being patronising.

I learn one piece of parenting advice from this book though, 'treat all your children equally or one of them will likely turn out to be a bad'un'.

What I wasn't expecting from this book was how easy it was to read. I don't know why but for some reason I expected to somehow have to work at the text but after a couple of chapters (which were hard to get into) I read through this book very quickly and found it quite a page turner. Steinbeck even left some cliffhangers at the end of some chapters leaving me to think 'Oh OK just one more chapter then'. Lets face it; there's nothing like a good family saga to keep a reader interested ;)

Of course there is plenty of other stuff within East of Eden's pages including man's struggle with both good and evil, where evil really stems from and the knock on effect of choices we make today. All the characters are flawed in their way (even the seemingly good and pure ones) and are three dimensional. The only exception to this is the character of Cathy Trask who is pure evil personified but whom I enjoyed reading about (almost like I couldn't look away.) Cathy's son Cal is probably the most complex character in the book as he struggles the most with his inner demons and he was also the character which I was most behind. Cal is flawed and is capable of being cruel when he wants to be but at the same time capable of great acts of kindness, perhaps because of this I wanted him out of everyone to choose to be a better man.

The Hamilton family is used to good effect as a contrast to the Trask Family and Steinbeck was also able to weave his own personal family history into the book through the Hamiltons. Like all epic stories told over generations there are the usual marriages, births and deaths and the dreaded sense that history can repeat itself. One of my favourite moments from the book is when Cal faces his mother and says "I don't have to be you." Wonderful stuff.

Would I recommend it? Oh yes – its 600 pages but it never drags and will give you plenty to think about.

Verdict 5/5

Posted by Jess


  1. Very interesting - and great review. I haven't read Steinbeck in a long, long time (in fact, I can't even remember which one of his novels I started in HS and didn't finish), but like you, I've always had this impression that he's flowery, verbose, and just hard to read. Not the case, eh? Very good to know!

  2. I've found Steinbeck's shorter books and novellas to be very easy to get into and to enjoy. And easy to get something out of as well. But I had a very difficult time with Grapes of Wrath. There's much to be gained from reading it, and it is brilliant, but I found it to also be something of a struggle.

    I do have East of Eden on my TBR shelf. I should give it a try. Glad to have your recommendation in its favor.

  3. East of Eden is one of my fave reads of all time. It's complex and simple at the same time. I just love it.

  4. Ooh, I love a good multi-generational family saga :) I have wondered before about what this book is about.

  5. As I was one of the bloggers urging you to read it, I so glad you liked it. Wouldn't want any curses hurled across the Atlantic towards my head! I read it soon after the miniseries back in the 80s and was absolutely mesmerized.

  6. I've just started to discover Steinbeck. I haven't gotten to this one yet, or the other big one -Grapes of Wrath- but I have enjoyed the other two I have read so far.
    Great review!

  7. I haven't read Steinbeck before. A few of his books are on my TBR list but I never seem to get to them. Your review makes me think I should.

  8. Greg - The first couple of chapeter were hard going slightly but I think he was just trying to set the scene. Once the story got going it was an easy read.

    C.B.James - I have the Grapes of Wrath and Im glad I did start with that one now.

    Ti & Emily - it is really on the surface a simple family saga but deeper stuff goes on.

    Lesa - yes you would have been named and shamed if I did like it (kidding)

    Allie - thankyou, hope you enjoy it when you eventually get around to it on your list

    Rachel - this book was the oldest book on my shelf by quite a long way. I had put it off for ages so I understand!

  9. Good review, like the parenting comment. I will not tell you how many years it is since I last read anything by Steinbeck!

    Thanks for your comments this am, from what I have seen on your own blog I think you will enjoy both 'Chocolat' and 'The Lollipop Shoes' as you seem to have an eclectic taste in reading material.
    I am sending it travelling as a Bookcrossing Bookring if you are interested in joining in, just let me know. It would be awhile before it reached you giving you time to read 'Chocolat' first.

  10. So is this your first Steinbeck? I read EoE last fall and loved it, though I admit to liking Grapes of Wrath even more. I do think Cathy is one of the best villains ever written!!

  11. This sounds very interesting. I read The Grapes of Wrath and didn't enjoy it much, but I think I would enjoy this. Great review!

  12. I've only read 'Of Mice and Men' so far - which is great, but rather tarred for me by the dissection we had to do on it in English classes. Haven't got this one yet - I'm adding it to my wishlist right now...

  13. Lindy - now Ive added Chocolat onto my wish list it could be months before I actually get a copy although this does vary. I will check out that bookcrossing site though.

    Amanda - Im hearing conflicting things about The Grapes of Wrath here, good to know you prefered it.

    Zara - see comment above LOL I have no idea how I will take to The Grapes of Wrath now.

    Elle - I managed to escape Of Mice and Men in school although my husband had to read it.

  14. I read this book more than twenty years ago, and I won't forget it. You're so right; Cathy's so evil, but you can't look away. I loved how it mirrored so many concepts in Genesis, but that's probably because I love the Bible so much in the first place. I'm glad you enjoyed your read. Of Mice and Men makes me cry, and when I read The Grapes of Wrath (in high school) I started writing in my journal like they were talking: practically no grammar to speak of. The words of Steinbeck apparently just grabbed me!

  15. So glad you liked it. I have this on my home bookshelf to read this year. I had hoped to read it by now, but...I will still try to. I read The Grapes of Wrath last year and put it on my 100 best books list.

  16. Bellezza - I have to admit I did brush up on the old Cain & Abel story halfway through.

    Kim - The Grapes of Wrath appears to be very divided on these comments so im looking forward to reading it

  17. This is one of my favourite books of all time, I'm glad you liked it!