Christina's Reviews > East of Eden

East of Eden by John Steinbeck
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Jun 26, 09

bookshelves: 2009, fiction, favourites, library
Read in June, 2009, read count: 1

I mean to make a garden of my land. Remember my name is Adam. So far I've had no Eden, let alone been driven out.(145)
This is a book about brothers, about family, about love, hate and jealousy. We follow the Trask family in three generations - Cyrus Trask, his sons Adam and Charles and Adam's sons Aron and Caleb with Adam being the main character that binds it all together.

Adam is forced to join the army by his father and after serving more than one term voluntarily, he leaves the army and kind of drifts around the country - including being arrested and put on a chain gang - before he arrives back home where he lives with his brother Charles. The two brothers have always had a love-hate relationship - in fact Charles tried to kill Adam at one point. And when they find a young, beat-up girl on their doorstep, the brothers disagree what to do with her. Adam helps her - and marries her. He takes Kate with him to California and she delivers twin boys. But Kate is not what she seems and as soon as she's able to, she leaves him and the boys. Their Chinese servant, Lee, has to take care of the family for several years before Adam starts to pull it together again - especially with the help of neighbour Samuel Hamilton.

One of the aspects that Steinbeck explores in depth in this book, is how we have a tendency to live up to the expectations people have of us. With the twins, for instance, Aron is instantly likeable and loveable - but his brother is not, dark and brooding as he is. So even when he does exactly the same as Aron, Caleb is viewed as being fake and as lying because that's not seen as being in character. And over time, he starts to be that person who occasionally hurts other people to live up to their expectations of him - even while he prays to be good...

Before reading this, I've only read The Moon Is Down back in school, but I must say I'm deeply impressed with both his story-telling skills and his knowledge about people and human relations. Also, the book features quite good discussions - especially about Cain and Abel and what that story means and whether or not it's translated right. Thou mayest! Also, he has some interesting things to say about mass production and what it means for us as human beings: When our food and clothing and housing all are born in the complication of mass production, mass method is bound to get into our thinking and to eliminate all other thinking. In our time mass or collective production has entered our economics, our politics, and even our religion, so that some nations have substituted the idea collective for the idea God. This in my time is the danger. There is great tension in the world, tension towards a breaking point, and men are unhappy and confused. /.../ Our species is the only creative species, and it has only one creative instrument, the individual mind and spirit of a man. Nothing was ever created by two en. There are no good collaborations, whether in music, in art, in poetry in mathematics, in philosophy. One the miracle of creation has taken place, the group can build an extend it, but the group ever invents anything. The preciousness lies in the lonely mind of a man.(111) While I don't quite agree that two people can't collaborate and create something together, I can see why this works great with a belief in a single, Christian God and also, how this belief works hand in hand with the rivalry between the brothers in this book, both Charles and Adam, Aron and Caleb - but also Cain and Abel.
The book is clearly inspired by the biblical story of Cain and Abel - and as it's pointed out by Lee, even if you are not a Christian, you can still recognise a true story when you hear it, also when it's in the Bible.
The book has so many levels and unforgettable characters - Kate who's a monster and which prompt Steinbeck to discuss what's normal and how we define normality as what most of us share - and how she's then perfectly normal in her own eyes. Lee, the fantastic Chinese servant who speaks pidgin because that's what people expect of him and who manages to raise the twins while their father is lost in his sorrow. Adam himself, a very believable character, so dependent on the people around him and always being pushed by their actions. John Steinbeck himself is a character in the book - as the grandson of Samuel Hamilton.
At the same time as the books delievers unforgettable characters, it's a clear picture of America at that point in time - and just a beautifully written story that I will love to return to later on.
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Reading Progress

06/14/2009 page 1
0.17% ""I always found in myself a dread of west and a love of east.""
06/15/2009 page 61
10.15% "The only Steinbeck I've ever read was 'The Moon is Down' back in school. I liked that book so I'm hoping I will like this one as well."
06/16/2009 "When our food and clothing and housing all are born in the complication of mass production, mass method is bound to get into our thinking..."
06/16/2009 page 111
18.47% "When our food and clothing and housing all are born in the complication of mass production, mass method is bound to get into our thinking..."
06/16/2009 page 142
23.63% "Enjoying this so far. Interesting to see what Cathy will do next ..."
06/16/2009 page 145
24.13% "I mean to make a garden of my land. Remember my name is Adam. So far I've had no Eden, let alone been driven out."
06/17/2009 page 175
29.12% "Liking it so far."
06/18/2009 page 208
34.61% "Well, the action is really starting to pick up now."
06/18/2009 page 269
44.76% "The twins are born and named. Long and interesting discussions about Cain and Abel. Thou mayest! John Steinbeck himself character/narrator."
06/19/2009 page 359
59.73% "The story of two families ... lots of drama indeed."
06/20/2009 page 384
63.89% "More about the twins now."
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