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To a God Unknown

3.94  ·  Rating details ·  9,955 ratings  ·  802 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, scared by Joseph's pagan belief, kills the tree and brings disease and famine on the fa ...more
Paperback, 240 pages
Published November 30th 2000 by Penguin Classics (first published 1933)
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Clint Minor correction to Alison Smallwood's answer: the brother is not Catholic, he's Protestant.…moreMinor correction to Alison Smallwood's answer: the brother is not Catholic, he's Protestant.(less)

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Average rating 3.94  · 
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Nov 12, 2017 rated it really liked it
Recommended to Dolors by: My yearning for a warm day on the Monterey bay
Shelves: read-in-2017
Steinbeck’s second novella is more than the sum of words that composes it.
On the surface, a story of a young man called Joseph Wayne who leaves his homeland in Vermont to establish his own farm in Our Lady of the Valley, California.
Underneath, a parable that is a converging point between pagan rites, Greek myths and the Old Testament, rich with allegorical meaning and thought-provoking interpretations.

The lush, fertile valley that Joseph selects to start a family and a cluster of farms with hi
Mar 11, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: american
“In a dry year all signs fail.”

There is little doubt that the migrants to the Salinas Valley of central California around the turn of the 20th century thought they had arrived in Paradise - like the Spanish and native settlers before them. This is why Joseph and his brothers quit their inhospitable Vermont. The climate was perfect. The resources and beauty abundant. The soil was fecund and waiting for seed. And the available technology was just right to exploit it all.

But the beautiful land has
Jan 04, 2015 rated it really liked it
Shelves: kindle

Back in 2012 I embarked on a project of reading my way through the works of John Steinbeck. Looking back on it, I should have developed a bit more of a plan: reading the novels in chronological order probably would have appealed to my Virgo tendencies. As it is, I started with Cannery Row, moved on to The Grapes of Wrath and then just read whatever came my way. Having finished To a God Unknown, I now only have one more novel– Steinbeck’s first, Cup of Gold – and a couple of volumes of non-fictio
Richard Derus
Rating: how it hurts me to do this, but a squeaking-by three stars of five

Steinbeck's second novel, which he labored over for five years, was damned near never published. The title is from a Vedic hymn to Prajapati, who is occasionally the Supreme God and, at other times, an avatar of "...Brahma, Vishnu, Shiva, Agni, Indra, Vishvakarma, Bharata, Kapila and many others." (Dalal, Hinduism: An Alphabetical Guide). The inspiration for the novel's ancient tree spirit, then, explains the novel's compl
Apr 23, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  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
(review in English below)

4 estrelas e meia!

Nem sei bem que diga, fiquei um bocado abananada por esta história, duma intensidade que parece atravessar décadas e continentes, transmitida através duma escrita superior, incisiva e sem floreados, mas com uma sensibilidade que me surpreendeu.

A história é excelente, tal como os personagens e as descrições dos ambientes; é perceptível que o autor conheceu aqueles locais, mas ilustrá-los desta forma não é para qualquer um.

Foi o meu primeiro Steinbeck
Célia Loureiro

“To a God Unknown” is my first read by Steinbeck. I owned an old edition of The Grapes of Wrath, but I remember start reading it and being lost in so much description. Description is, precisely, what worked so well in this book. The title is a marvel, and the book revolves around its symbology with admirable grace. The script is rather simple: land in the West Coast is being given away and Joseph Wayne, who always dreamt of possessing something of his own, says goodbye to his dying father and
Sep 12, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
"I do not know whether there are men born outside humanity, or whether some men are so human as to make others seem unreal. Perhaps a godling lives on earth now and then...I tell you this man is not a man, unless he is all men."

4.5 stars. This book has so much symbolism and layers of meaning that I will probably read it again to try to absorb everything. I can't believe this was one of the first books Steinbeck wrote; it seems like something written at the end of a writer's career. It is rich an
May 24, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2013
“Everything seems to work with a recurring rhythm except life. There is only one birth and only one death. Nothing else is like that.”
― John Steinbeck, To a God Unknown


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 old
Michael Canoeist
Apr 04, 2011 rated it really liked it
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
Joseph Wayne, the third son of the elderly Vermont farmer John Wayne, realizes that the family must move west. Their land in Vermont is too small to support the large family that the Wayne family has become. A homestead in California offers a promising future. Along with his three brothers six hundred and forty fertile acres can be claimed, if they move quickly before the best land is taken. With his father’s blessing, Joseph moves first, setting up a homestead in the Salinas Valley. With their ...more
May 13, 2007 rated it liked it
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
Dec 02, 2018 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: classics
I'll call this creepy Steinbeck. The detached writing style added a sinister element to these common place events and conversations. This story also took dark turns at almost every chance it got. I don't really understand Steinbeck's intent for this book, but I think I'd be a good read to kick off October. Just play creepy music in the background and nearly all the scenes will take on a menacing tone. ...more
Mike Frost
Feb 20, 2009 rated it it was ok
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
Sep 17, 2020 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Was not as huge a fan of this one. Steinbeck is once again fantastic in his imagery of scenes, but this books just felt too metaphorical and hyperbolic for me to take the themes seriously. Also all the animal death made me upset.
May 21, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: classics
Magical realism, cultures and beliefs clashing, and ancient pagan powers all play a part in this short but powerful Steinbeck novel. This is one of those novels that really requires a deep re-read, because there is so much going on and metaphors and symbols are everywhere.
Rod Brown
Never even knew this book existed until I came across this 1955 paperback edition at a used book store, priced at $1, up just bit from its original thirty-five cent cover price. It's hawked as the progenitor of East of Eden, the story of a family and the land to which they have tied themselves, but is mostly an overwritten turd. The theatrical dialogue made me cringe from start to finish.

It did amuse me to start thinking of it as dark magical realism and even a full-on horror novel, rife with Lo
Sep 07, 2016 rated it it was amazing
A mystical tale of course, that I've been wanting to read for a while. It exactly shows Steinbeck growing into a mature and accomplished novelist... ...more
Po Po
May 25, 2014 rated it liked it

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
Nov 21, 2008 rated it it was amazing

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
Jul 11, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: read-again, 2012
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
Feb 22, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
In To a God Unknown, Steinbeck uses allegory to explicitly advance the philosophy of Nietzsche's Übermensch.

After meeting an old man "over the range" and witnessing the sunset sacrifice of a pig at his hands, Joseph asks: "Why do you do this?" After the two engage a back-and-forth dialogue, the old man hits his point: "I do it for myself. I can't tell that it does not help the sun. But it is for me. In the moment, I am the sun. Do you see? I, through the beast, am the sun. I burn in th
Lavinia Zamfir
This is Steinbeck's second novel after the unsuccessful Cup of Gold. I've ended up reading it because I've seen the book at the public library and I said why not, I liked every single Steinbeck novel I've read. And I liked this one too!

As Joseph Wayne decides to move out his family's ranch, he starts wandering around in order to find a place of his own. He eventually records his homestead in the Nuestra Senora valley. He later finds out his father has died and begins to think of the great oak tr
I really want to give To a God Unknown more that three stars, because it's more than an average kind of novel. I wouldn't call it boring in places, but rather "trying". It requires patience and a blind belief from the reader that in the end this slow, seemingly pointless plot will pay off. And that's a lot to ask from a reader. I do trust John Steinbeck, so I stuck around until the end. I'm glad I did. There is nothing shocking or impactful that happens in the finale, but after turning the last ...more
Mar 20, 2008 rated it it was amazing
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. ...more
Ewan Davis
Mar 31, 2019 rated it it was amazing
One very long summer some men came to the forest behind my house and cut down all the trees. The noise of the machinery lasted from 7am till 8pm most days. There were trucks which swarmed around this Queen-like machine, long and bulbous, which, in one motion, cut the trees from their bases, flipped them vertical, and stripped them of their branches. All gears and blades and noise. Once the weeks had passed and they had stripped the hillside bare, I mourned, because I had lost a part of my life, ...more
Andrew Liptak
Sep 03, 2010 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition

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
Gică Buştiuc
Yes, you have a place in my heart, mr. Steinbeck.
Nov 28, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction
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
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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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