East of Eden by John Steinbeck (1952)
And this I believe: that the free, exploring mind of the individual human is the most valuable thing in the world. And this I would fight for: the freedom of the mind to take any direction it wishes, undirected. And this I must fight against: any idea, religion, or government which limits or destroys the individual.
One-sentence summary: This family saga details the interwoven lives of two families, the Trasks and the Hamiltons, set against the historic backdrop of Salinas Valley, California, in the early 20th century.
When read: June 2005
Why read: This is another classic I had always intended to read.
Impressions: This is my favorite John Steinbeck novel, the first one by him that I had read and the one that convinced me of how great a writer he is. I was absolutely captivated by this story. Like a true epic, it swallowed me whole and forced me to keep reading until I reached the end, at which point I was disappointed that it was over. Reams have been written on this novel, so I will not attempt a pithy little analysis. But what a revelation—that a classic work of literature can be read and enjoyed entirely outside of an academic setting, and that the reader can spend hours of pleasant reflection on the book’s meaning and themes without having to produce a paper on them. Perhaps it is time to rediscover literature outside of the glass jar lowered over it by academia.
Current status: I have this in my library and fully intend to reread it someday.
- Steinbeck considered East of Eden to be his greatest novel: ”It has everything in it I have been able to learn about my craft or profession in all these years….I think everything else I have written has been, in a sense, practice for this.”
- The story of Cain and Abel was the inspiration for East of Eden: “And Cain went out from the presence of the Lord, and dwelt in the Land of Nod, on the east of Eden.” The first letters of the names of the Trask family members all start with C or A.
- John Steinbeck gives his younger self a cameo in the novel.
If you liked this book, then you might also like:
- The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck
- Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry
- Angle of Repose by Wallace Stegner
- The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
- The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter by Carson McCullers