Frank's Reviews > East of Eden

East of Eden by John Steinbeck
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Apr 18, 2007

it was amazing
bookshelves: to-reread, favorites
Recommended for: any American lit fan
Read in April, 2007

This book is mind blowing. It is John Steinbeck at his sharpest. He said that every author really only has one "book," and that all of his books leading up to East of Eden were just practice--Eden would be his book.

I could write a summary of the book, but it would be more trouble than it's worth. You will often hear it referred to as a "modern retelling of the Genesis story of Cain and Abel" but that is too simplistic. Steinbeck takes the story of Cain and Abel and makes Cain (in the form of Cal Trask) the sympathetic character. Cal Trask does not act destructively for the sake of destruction, but he is desperately clawing for approval and love from his father, Adam, who prefers Cal's twin brother, Aron. The story isn't that pat, though--Cal and Aron really don't make their entrances as major characters until the last quarter of the 600 page novel. So, to say that this book is simply the retelling of Cain and Abel is to oversimplify the book. The main theme of the book is the desire within everyone for love, and how this desire can make people turn to destructive behavior.

This book has been criticized for being too verbose, meandering, inconsistently paced, and heavy handed in its parallel with the story of Cain and Abel. Yes, it is verbose and meandering, but that's Steinbeck. It gives a full picture of the Salinas valley. It gives you insights and perspectives you might not otherwise have. If anything, Steinbeck's constant forays into unrelated sidebars give the reader a break in pace, a rest that makes the more important parts of the books feel as though they flow more smoothly. As for the parallel with Cain and Abel, it is heavy-handed. That being said, the heavy-handedness didn't bother me. Going in to the novel with the expectation of it being a retelling of Cain and Abel (at least for some of the narrative) is enough to make the obvious references to Cain and Abel seem natural. If Steinbeck had given the impression that he was trying to hide the parallel, it would have been insulting. But Steinbeck isn't trying to hide it--he makes it clear that the story of Cain and Abel are an integral part of his story.

East of Eden is an amazing novel. Its strong points more than compensate for the very few shortcomings. Steinbeck is such a tremendous writer that his shortcomings become strengths. I highly recommend it.
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01/30/2016 marked as: read

Comments (showing 1-10 of 10) (10 new)

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Margarida Exactly! Great review.


April Amazing review :) It does East of Eden justice!


Joan Early Amen!


message 4: by Tim (new) - rated it 5 stars

Tim I feel as though the inconsistent pace is kind of a positive thing. It would be boring if it had no change in pace throughout the whole story.


message 5: by J. (new)

J. Keck Great review. Great Book. Certainly one of the two best books Steinbeck wrote.


Anna-maria One of the best books I have EVER read! When I finished it I was moved to tears that it was over.


Jack Blashchishen Your review really conveyed what is beautiful about the book and excellently rebuked the common description as a "cain and able retelling." Truly you said it that that would be much too simplistic. In east of eden i found something akin to the American version of the brothers karamazov. Truly a brilliant book and not just a parable.


Mary Raihofer I too enjoyed the book although I must say I think "Grapes of Wrath" more than rivals it. I loved the writing, yes, verbose but what an art form! As I said before, we forget how great the classics are. I am on to "Cannery Row."


James Busse You've got issues. Fix them. I pity you..


Jungsook Chung What a book review! I didn't expect I would love John Steinbeck's work so much. As soon as I finished the book, I wanted to reread it.
I am glad 'East of Eden' is one of your four favorite books. (less)


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