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To a God Unknown

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3.91 of 5 stars 3.91  ·  rating details  ·  4,693 ratings  ·  325 reviews
While fulfilling his dead father's dream of creating a prosperous farm in California, Joseph Wayne comes to believe that a magnificent tree on the farm embodies his father's spirit. His brothers and their families share in Joseph's prosperity and the farm flourishes - until one brother kills the tree.
Paperback, 240 pages
Published October 1st 2001 by Penguin Books, Limited (UK) (first published 1933)
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The Hobbit by J.R.R. TolkienGone with the Wind by Margaret MitchellBrave New World by Aldous HuxleyThe Grapes of Wrath by John SteinbeckOf Mice and Men by John Steinbeck
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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
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Suzy
Apr 30, 2011 Suzy rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Nick, Teri
Continuing in my quest to read all of Steinbeck...

Wow, this book affected me more than any other book in a long while. First, Steinbeck's writing is pure beauty. Sometimes I stop and savor each sentence, particularly in descriptive passages, and the perfection with which he writes is unbelievable.
Like the protagonist, Joseph, I love and feel connected to nature in a deep and a strong way. I also have a strong sense of the sacred that permeates my everyday experiences; Joseph seems always distrac
...more
Joyce Lagow
Steinbeck wrote a number of California novels. The early ones feature lyrical descriptive prose of the land, whether of the Salinas Valley or the Pacific Coast. Clearly Steinbeck loved the area, had a real passion for the valleys, the vegetation, the animals� and the people who lived there. But while almost all of his other California novels that focused on the land and the people who lived on it were gently affectionate, To A God Unknown is a very different bird. The title is taken from an adap ...more
Meghan
May 13, 2007 Meghan rated it 3 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: mostly just Steinbeck fans
I opened this book for the first time - one of the few Steinbeck novels I had not yet read - shortly after completing my own first attempt at writing a novel. The little book is one of Steinbeck's earliest published works and, interestingly enough, the one that took him the longest to complete. It was in this context that I found the book most provoking: myself an aspiring writer, it was interesting to witness part of the development of one of my favorite novelists. Although not yet as strong an ...more
Michael
An odd, often clumsy, but also fearless book. To a God Unknown is John Steinbeck's second novel, following a historical romance. I would not have guessed, in reading its first half, that I would end up giving it a 4-star rating, but its insistence on its unusual pantheistic themes, coupled with Steinbeck's tremendous evocation of the interior, unsung part of the California landscape's beauties and terrors, combined for powerful effect. The reader must be prepared for unrealistic dialogue -- Stei ...more
Luís Miguel
Desconhecido, mas não irreconhecível. O segundo romance de Steinbeck tem os seus aspectos mais crus, mas a constante tensão que irradia demonstra arte. A própria sinopse é reveladora de desgraça: Joseph obtém a benção do pai para se mudar para um vale na Califórnia onde, após a morte do patriarca, desloca os seus três irmãos. No novo rancho da família, Joseph acredita que o espírito do pai continua vivo, através de uma árvore. Contrariado pela visão pagã de Joseph, o irmão Burton "mata" a árvore ...more
Mike Frost
Although it runs only 240 pages (compare that to East of Eden at 601 pages), To a God Unknown was the project which took Steinbeck the longest to complete. It was only his second full-length novel, and he worked on it over a period of five years, nearly scrapping it on more than one occasion. And despite all of his revisions and efforts he just did not succeed in making it a great piece of literature.

Now don't get me wrong -- it is still in an entirely different league than the pulpy kind of gar
...more
Simona Bartolotta
"Vi dico che quell'uomo non è un uomo, a meno che non sia tutti gli uomini in uno. La forza, la resistenza, il lungo e incespicante pensiero di tutti gli uomini e anche tutta la gioia e tutta la sofferenza che in essi si cancellano a vicenda senza uscirne. E' tutto questo, è il ricettacolo di almeno un frammento d'ogni anima umana, e più ancora è un simbolo dell'anima della terra."

John Steinbeck è senza pari. Gli scrittori come lui sono pochi, i narratori come lui si contano sulla punta delle di
...more
Allan
This is the earliest of Steinbeck's novels that I've so far read, and if truth be told, one of my least favourites.

Recounting the story of the Wayne family, who set up a homestead in the Nuestra Señora Valley after Joseph, the main protagonist leaves his father's land in the east, the novel is full of mysticism that I found it hard to identify with, charting as it did the relationship that humans have with the land on which they farm. I found it hard to identify or empathise with any of the cha
...more
B.
Apr 03, 2008 B. rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: lovers of American lit
One of Steinbeck's early novellas, it is eerie, neo-paganistic, and sublime. The brother who is murdered was actually based on a real literary figure...Joseph Campbell. The two ran with the same literary crowd in the 40s and Campbell had an affair of the heart with Steinbeck's wife. Steinbeck handled the affair with grace and tact in reality, but poured out some righteous anger in To a God Unknown. Awesome stuff.
Po Po
Ehh.

The things I liked were: (1)the breathtaking, awe-inspiring descriptions of nature...(2) the (sometimes heavy-handed) symbolism...and (3) the well-rounded portrayal of women as sexual beings yet with boundless strength and intelligence.

The things I didn't like: (1) the hero Joseph Wayne made choices that consistently made me want to discontinue reading...(2) the glorification of emotional unavailability / stoicism, as if it were an ideal character trait (is it really ideal? This trait was un
...more
Andrew Liptak

One of the latest books that I’ve read recently is John Steinbeck’s To A God Unknown, his second novel, and a recipient of the Nobel Prize in Literature. The story, which looks to the Bible, ancient myths, paganism and several other influences, weaves together a story about belief and faith, mixing reality and fantasy in what I would really call a speculative fiction novel.

Set in the 1800s, the book follows the story of the Joseph Wayne, a Vermonter, who yearns to go out west, and receiving the
...more
Ryan
I can always count on a Steinbeck to break the streak of crappy, 2-star reads. I love how I can always return to him, with a book I’ve never really heard of, and immediately fall back in step with his style, his worldview, and completely love his message.

Apparently this is his second book, and you can clearly see how he’s building up to his greater works, laying the foundation for themes to be developed throughout the course of his writing career. Though clearly in his second tier under Grapes,
...more
Ginny_1807
L’evocazione di temi biblici, spesso contaminata da una religiosità pagana misteriosa e quasi magica, caratterizza molta parte della narrativa di Steinbeck, sia per le vicende che tratta, sia per le caratteristiche che imprime ai luoghi e ai personaggi. In particolare, il paesaggio naturale si carica di significati inquietanti, di presagi propizi o infausti, scandendo e talora determinando il decorso degli eventi e le sorti delle persone; alcuni protagonisti dei suoi romanzi, poi, possiedono un’ ...more
Hosanna
Its ambiguity, a novel written in ode to an unknown god, is what originally drew me to the book. Seeing that Steinbeck's latter works tended to be pretty biographical, I got the book, curious to see whether it gave any insight into how Steinbeck viewed religion or his faith. It was surprising to realize that the book is not so much intended to be a coherent story that spawns reader admiration, but rather, as Steinbeck himself put it, a complex mesh of his ideas and musings about life, death, and ...more
Losososdiane
This was Steinbeck's second novel. It was a fascinating read. The symbolism is heavy. The tone is very serious. The subject is the relationship of man to nature and god. The novel foreshadows subjects that Steinbeck continued to deal with in his later works. The writing is beautiful if a bit overwrought. I loved his careful and loving observation of the land. I live maybe sixty miles south of the setting and took great pleasure in his evocation of the sights, sounds and smells of the land and th ...more
Julie
A surprise find by Steinbeck, this second of his novels is both grim and uplifting. Many say it's an opus to the environment, but I saw the symbolism as deeply Christian. I actually fell in love less with the characters than with the sprawling father tree and the moist mother rock. I believe that's as Steinbeck intended.
J
This book gets four stars because it kept me reading when I thought that ideology was gonna make me have to put it down. Fortunately Mr. Steinbeck is a pretty awesome writer, although a lot of his ideas about religion, humans and animals, and gender are pretty jacked up. He's real gender-essentialist, for instance, and that is pretty important in this book, especially in the early parts. Patriarchy--like literal patriarchy, out of the Bible--that's really important too. And I just can't get behi ...more
Stephen
Purple and brown, dusty wine shot through with wheat-colored sun.

John Steinbeck's, "To a God Unknown," is both love letter and a Dear John to his native Northern California countryside.

The author lingers often and long on the Salinas Valley landscape, now a land of milk 'n honey, moist, juicy, dashed with clover; now a dry and crusty graveyard frozen beneath a foreboding moon. These pastoral passages can transport. Steinbeck looks at the same places and renders them differently with each new e
...more
Susan Johnson
John Steinbeck leaves such a legacy of literature inclding his classics "Grapes of Wrath", "Of Mice of Men" and "Cain and Abel" that it seems impossible that I missed one of his books. And, yet, I did. This third novel is a strong, early work of a man whose talent would only become stronger. Along with fellow Nobel Prize winners, Faulkner and Hemingway, he valued the creative process of literary writing.
Although, I am quite familiar with the Salinas area, this book has special meaning for me. Th
...more
jeremy
as one of steinbeck's earliest works (his second novel), to a god unknown is not nearly as refined, cohesive, or accomplished an effort as the ones that followed. the sheer ambition and determination with which steinbeck set about writing this book, however, may not have been matched at any other point in his career. initially adapting the book's theme from an unfinished stage play by one of his stanford classmates, steinbeck labored for five years (longer than with any other of his works) and, ...more
Steve
Wow.

An arresting and achingly beautiful vision of the power of faith.

Steinbeck is known for being obvious to the point of annoyance with his themes. Here, it is the story itself that lets you sink beneath the message to catch the greater tragedy that unfolds.

The story is straightforward and appears at first glance like a standard Steinbeckian fable. A father in Vermont passes his blessing to one of his four sons, Joseph, who is leaving for California.

In California, Joseph settles in a valley ne
...more
Христо Блажев
Стайнбек като запазена марка – “Към един незнаен бог”: http://www.knigolandia.info/2009/11/b...

Няма как да бъде сбъркана книга, писана от Стайнбек. В поредицата “На изток от рая”, “Гроздовете на гнева”, “Зимата на нашето недоволство” и кой ли още не, “Към един незнаен бог” влиза като късче от огромен пъзел, за да завърши още една малка част от него. Цялата картина за съжаление винаги ще остане само в главата на великия писател, който ни е дал толкова много части от нея, но е било невъзможно да о
...more
David Litwack
I just finished rereading To a God Unknown, John Steinbeck’s second novel. I first read it many years ago when I was fifteen and it made a huge impression–not quite the book that started me writing, but close. I decided to reread it to find out why it had such an influence on me.It’s not regarded as one of Steinbeck’s best or even a particularly good novel.

Criticism ranged from lukewarm to scathing. The New York Times called it “a symbolical novel conceived in mysticism and dedicated to the soil
...more
Darwin8u
An early Steinbeck filled with amazing biblical, pagan, and Greek images. The novel sketches the relationship between Joseph and his efforts homesteading out West with his family. It is a story of four brothers who move from the East (Vermont) to the West (California) to work the land and raise cattle.

Joseph Wayne isn't the oldest, but he is the leader/patriarch of the brothers ever since their dying father gave him his blessing (hints at Isaac’s blessing on Jacob). Joseph is convinced that his
...more
arcobaleno
Povero uomo solitario
Un romanzo forte, dai risvolti drammatici: l’amore per la vita, per la dignità dell’Uomo, porta Joseph a caricarsi di responsabilità e di doveri sovrumani verso la Famiglia, il Paese, la Terra. Joseph ha una forza ‘biblica’ in sé, che gli deriva dalla sua origine e gli è stata trasmessa dal padre: si sente egli stesso natura, in un rapporto sofferto e profondo: lui è terra, è roccia, erba, pioggia… Ma la sua forza ha qualcosa di superiore, dunque non può essere compresa, e
...more
Scott Heimberg
The book is enormously sad. It is not sad because of the death and decay of the living that takes place within it. It is sad because it is one of the last real bridges to a far off past where humankind was much closer to the Earth. This isn't that annoyingly pretentious and false hippie, green or modern environmentalist connection to the past...it is seeped in a time before civilization where there was meaning above and beyond humanistic creations. A time before God.

At first, I thought it naive
...more
Jed
Sep 04, 2009 Jed rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: anyone trying to understand old john
While this is not Steinbeck's finest work, it represents an important step in his development as an author. Many of the seeds that come to define Steinbeck's unique philosophy and style are planted here. Chiefly among them is man's relationship to the earth and the muddle over his mastery of it or slavery to it. An equally important theme is that of a certain ambiguity toward God (again, a favorite motif that will appear in his later works), exploring the "traditional" religious experience and a ...more
Sarah Beaudoin
An early Steinbeck novel, To a God Unknown contains a lot of the themes that Steinbeck explores more in depth in later novels. Joseph Wayne moves to California to find his own land, and eventually his three brothers follow with their families. As they develop their large family farm, Joseph becomes increasingly connected to a tree on the farm. The powerful role that nature holds over every living thing becomes evident after the tree is killed and a series of calamitous events follow.

As a novel,
...more
Marit
A classic Steinbeck novel, to a T. Steinbeck blends simple prose grounded firmly in reality describing the Central Valley of California with mythical, mysterious and often bewildering human characters. The main character is almost non-human in his communion with the land and lack of ability to understand or communicate himself to other people. Joseph's obsession and identification with the land he has chosen for himself drives the story forward just as much as the external (or perhaps internal!) ...more
Noiresque
I'll have to think about this one some more. But on the whole, it was OK. No missing that this is Steinbeck - the setting, the prose, the characters. I can understand, after reading it, why (at least in part) it must've been so hard to write.

I would've been better served reading this book in a club or a class to better think about the themes and symbolism. But even with my cursory understanding, it seems like a very interesting take on the three-way tension between man, nature and religion. Paga
...more
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John Steinbeck III was an American writer. He wrote the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel The Grapes of Wrath, published in 1939 and the novella Of Mice and Men, published in 1937. In all, he wrote twenty-five books, including sixteen novels, six non-fiction books and several collections of short stories.

In 1962 Steinbeck received the Nobel Prize for Literature.

Steinbeck grew up in the Salinas Valley
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More about John Steinbeck...
Of Mice and Men The Grapes of Wrath East of Eden The Pearl Cannery Row

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“There are some times...when the love for people is strong and warm like a sorrow.” 47 likes
“I should have known […] I am the rain. […] I am the land […] and I am the rain. The grass will grow out of me in a little while.” 11 likes
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