“Book Concierge said: 5 stars
I had read Steinbeck works before but had never picked up this novel. It contains so MUCH more than the movie starring James Dean (which basically covered only the end of the novel, from about chapter 35 on.) This is an epic story of 3 generations of Trask men, based on the book of Genesis (basically the story of Cain and Abel). Lots of good discussion material here. A masterpiece of literary fiction. One of the best books I've ever read.
The writing style is compelling. Sentence structure is short and keeps the story moving. Yet, he still finds time to describe the setting and the people in a way that makes them come alive on the page.
************ SPOILER ALERT BELOW ****************
It is an epic tale based on the Book of Genesis, telling the saga of three generations of Trask men. Cyrus Trask is the father of Adam and Charles (though by different mothers). They boys do not get along; Charles nearly kills Adam. Eventually, however, they are living on the farm alone in an uneasy truce, when Cathy - having been beaten nearly to death - lands on their doorstep. Charles recognizes the evil in her, but Adam is smitten and marries her. They move to California where Adam wants to set up a model farm in the fertile Salinas Valley. But that is HIS dream, not Cathy’s. After she gives birth to twins Adam and Caleb, Cathy abandons them and moves to town, where she goes to work in the “best” brothel. Adam never really recovers from her betrayal. The raising of the twins is left to his Chinese servant, Lee. When the boys are about 11, Adam moves to town so they can have better schooling. Aron becomes close to Abra, a girl in his class. Cal struggles with “being good.” Although Adam has never leveled with the boys about their mother, Cal has discovered the truth. It’s really not much of a secret in town. As WW I looms, Cal tries to earn some money so he can please his father and “earn his love.” But when he presents his father with the money he has earned Adam refuses the gift saying it is the gains of war profiteering. Cal, feeling hurt and dejected, takes it out on their father’s “favorite son,” Aron. He takes Aron to visit their mother. Aron, distressed to learn the truth, runs away to join the Army. When the telegram comes saying he has died in the war, Adam suffers a stroke and Cal feels the guilt of having “killed” his brother. But at Lee’s urging, Adam finally gives some sign that he forgives and accepts Cal.
Our book group found much to discuss here. Are people really “born monsters”? If so, how do you reconcile free will and choice (Timshel)? Were Cal and Aron the sons of Adam or of Charles? How autobiographical was this work (the occasional first person narrator is named “John” and he is the son of Olivia Hamilton – as was John Steinbeck himself).
The most intriguing characters for me were Cathy/Kate and Lee. Cathy because she personified evil as did no other character in the book. Even Cyrus, Charles and Caleb all had moments of “goodness.” Only Cathy was uniformly and consistently evil. A true psychopath.
Lee fascinates me because of his circumstance, his intelligence, his decision to use pidgin (“because it’s what people expect to hear”), and his great love for the Trask family. He, in effect, took on the role of the “mother” of the house after Cathy left. If someone were to write a “sequel” or complementary work to this one, I would hope it would tell Lee’s story. I would definitely read that book!
serenity said: 5 stars
I picked this book up for 50 cents at a garage sale, thinking how funny it was that I have never before read anything by Steinbeck, one of our premier American authors. All I can say is wow. This book was a masterpiece from start to finish. It is set in California in the early 1900s and ends during World War I. It kind of parallels the Adam and Eve and Cain and Abel stories from the Bible, but not in a Christian preachy way-more like a reflection on human nature way. Amazing book. Now I need to read the Grapes of Wrath.
LibraryCin said: 3.5 stars
Adam and Charles are brothers who grew up in Connecticut, and are quite opposite. Under his father's pressure, Adam joins the army, but hates it. When he returns after wandering for a time, he marries, and leaves for California. Charles hates Cathy, Adam's new wife. There is something a little "off" about her. The remainder of the book focuses on Adam's life on a farm in California, including raising his twin sons, Cal and Aron, and his relationships with his neighbour, Sam Hamilton, and his employee, Lee, who helps run the household.
It was good. I found some parts more interesting than others, especially those parts that focused on Cathy. I thought the characters were very well done.
againstthetide said: 5 stars and a HEART
I never give a heart. Okay, very rarely.
Yes, I loved East of Eden completely. It is a story of a family headed by Adam in Salinas, CA. Adam has two sons with a pretty evil woman - - and the story really evokes the biblical tale of Cane and Abel.
If you are a very plot focused person, I'm not sure you'd really love East of Eden because the stories are not all tied up at the end with a pretty bow.
But if you love FANTASTIC descriptive writing and amazing character development and a book that truly sheds light on the human condition - - well, then don't miss this one. I could NOT put it down.
Steinbeck's writing is both effortless and brilliant. His insights are thoughtful, but he doesn't hit you over the head with them. He really really takes on some big themes - - the internal struggle that we face between good and evil, the endless desire for parental love, etc.
This really isn't a great review because there's no way for me to do this book proper justice. I just feel that for me, Steinbeck comes as close to perfect writing as any author I've read . . .he makes me think, makes me cry, and makes me want to know his characters personally. I never wanted this book to end, and when it did, I just wanted to start it all over again.
Nicole R said: 4 stars
Whew. This was a rough reading month for me! While East of Eden isn't officially on the 1001 BYMRBYD list, it is tagged as such on Shelfari. I have only ever read Cannery Row by Steinbeck before this and I have been looking for an excuse to read more of his work.
East of Eden is a modern-day retelling of Cain and Abel, and how the sins of our fathers are passed down to the next generation. Adam Trask, our virtuous biblical Adam, and his symbolically fallen Eve have twin sons Cain and Abel Cal and Aron, one of whom Adam prefers for no apparent reason and the other who desperately wants his fathers approval (guess which is which). Starting when Adam is a boy and competing with his own brother Charles and moving through the battle between Cal and Aron, we follow the Trask family as each generation cannot quite help but make the same mistakes as his father.
Contrary to the time it took me to finish this book, I really enjoyed it. I thought the symbolism was phenomenal and appreciated the small things - the fact that Cyrus, Charles, Cathy, and Cal shared a first initial as well as certain personality traits while Alice, Adam, Aron, Abra have others (though I think Abra was more C than A).
But, more engaging that the Trask family themselves was the full cast of supporting characters. Steinbeck spent much time describing the poor, neighboring Hamilton Family which was modeled on the family of his mother, Olive Hamilton (John actually wrote himself into the novel as a minor character) and I wanted to know Samuel Hamilton. Lee was also an extremely interesting character who was ultimately the glue that held the Trask Family together.
My one complaint is that the story never really pulled me in. I enjoyed reading it and was interested in what happened, but I could set it aside for days on end and not feel that pull of needing to know what happens next. It was just there, waiting, for me to return. I think I would have potentially felt differently about that aspect if I had more time to read on a regular basis this month.
Overall, Steinbeck is a phenomenal writer and is more than deserving of his Nobel Prize and placement on the 1001 BYMRBYD list.”