East of Eden by John Steinbeck
East of Eden is an epic tale of both the Hamilton and the Trask families. Written mostly as an ode to his own family, Steinbeck recreated the Salinas Valley and all its inhabitants in this tragic tale. Following the story of Cain and Abel, Steinbeck recreates a number of brother/sibling rivalries throughout the book that propel the narrative from one generation to the next.
I really don’t know what to say about this, how to sum it up and how to clearly define how I felt about it. This is one of my favorite books, hands down. Now I really understand why my boyfriend rereads this book once a year. Steinbeck did a fantastic job dissecting human nature, filial bonds, sibling rivalry, religion and all by connecting the dots through the religious story of Cain and Abel. There are a number of ways to dissect this book. Good v. Evil (Adam Trask v. Cathy, or Caleb v Aron). A study of human nature, nature v. nurture, fate v deliberate decisions, etc.
Lee is my favorite character. Lee and Samuel Hamilton were the most insightful, entertaining characters. I think Cathy was a sore spot. Other than just being pure evil, she did nothing for the narrative and her role was very stale even with her interactions with her sons. There was a small glint of change towards the end of her life, but she was otherwise a very dry character.
I also wish Steinbeck had spent more time on his own family tree. The Hamiltons seem like such a fun, inventive and curious family. So large and varied with so many personalities. It was really awesome to get a glimpse into Steinbeck’s life reading this book. You really learn more about his writing style and his perspective on society when you learn about the family that surrounded him.
Since this was a book club pick, we decided to make it a book club field trip with a drive down to Salinas (its about a 2 hour drive from San Jose).
We of course went to the National Steinbeck center. Its a very interactive museum, following the course of his life, highlighting his work and lifelong accomplishments.
After that, we walked around Salinas a bit, recreating Cathy’s walk on her weekly outing from the Brothel that she ran. We also went to Steinbeck’s house, the house that is mentioned in East of Eden, the one where the famed author grew up. Unfortunately the house is closed on Sundays, so we were able to go inside for the tour, but I did plenty of peeking in through the windows to get a glimpse. Its so funny how authors are the famed celebrities of bookworms. My group was also a little bit morbid, because we went to see the Steinbeck grave at the Salinas cemetery.
Reading East of Eden (and virtually any Steinbeck novel) then going to Salinas really makes the stories and the characters more real because Salinas has not changed very much since Steinbeck’s time there. Its a very small, quaint and somewhat run-down city.
If you are in the Bay Area, I also recommend stopping by the San Jose State University Steinbeck Center for more information, relics and educational resources on John Steinbeck.East of Eden by John Steinbeck Penguin ISBN 0142000655 601 pages