Tadiana ✩Night Owl☽'s Reviews > East of Eden

East of Eden by John Steinbeck
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it was amazing
bookshelves: classics, historical-fiction, literary-stuff, made-me-think

East of Eden, a 1952 novel, was a long, sprawling, sometimes slow but often very intense read. Steinbeck considered it his magnum opus. It begins at the turn of the century in Connecticut, telling about the difficult childhood of Adam Trask and the pains and troubles caused him by his half-brother Charles. Adam meets and marries Cathy Ames, whom he blindly loves, but who is a truly evil, completely self-centered woman at heart.

They move out to the Salinas Valley in California, where they have twin sons, Aron and Cal ... and the Cain and Abel motif repeats itself in a second generation. Cathy abandons her young family and heads off to (secretly) be a prostitute in a nearby town, adopting the name of Kate. Aron and Cal grow to be young men: Cal is wild and reckless, Aron dependable and good-hearted, always believing the best of others.

To make things even more complicated Steinbeck weaves in a storyline about the Samuel Hamilton family, Irish immigrants ... and Steinbeck's actual ancestors.

So often, Steinbeck's insightful comments on a person or a situation struck me deeply; he has a marvelous way with words. He also has a gift for writing complex and conflicted characters, though it's not always exercised fully, especially with some of his female characters. However, Abra, Aron's girlfriend, is a wonderful character, especially in her resistance to Aron's false idealization of her and her parents' focus on social position and wealth.

The Cain and Abel theme, which shows up with Adam and Charles and resurfaces in the second generation with Aron and Cal, was fascinating: not just the good and evil dichotomy (though the evil is mixed with some good, and is often more just human weakness), but also other echoes of the original Biblical story. For example, the Cain characters work with farming and the land, like the original Cain; Abel was a shepherd and Aron wants to be a priest (a spiritual shepherd), and so on. I loved how Steinbeck humanizes the Cain characters and emphasizes how we all have a choice in how we act and react to events in our lives.
"The American Standard translation orders men to triumph over sin, and you can call sin ignorance. The King James translation makes a promise in 'Thou shalt,' meaning that men will surely triumph over sin. But the Hebrew word, the word timshel--'Thou mayest'--that gives a choice. It might be the most important word in the world. That says the way is open. That throws it right back on a man. For if 'Thou mayest'--it is also true that 'Thou mayest not.' "
I really enjoyed how Steinbeck wove his own family history into the pages of this book:

description
Samuel Hamilton, the prophetic Irishman and Steinbeck's grandfather

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Olive Hamilton Steinbeck (Steinbeck's mother) and her famous -- and crazy! -- airplane ride

My favorite character was Lee, the Chinese servant of the Trask family. He grows from hiding behind his queue and pidgin English to full acceptance of himself. He gives sound advice to the various Trask family members, and loves them with all their faults. He is the best, and I really wish he were a real person as well. (Cathy/Kate, on the other hand: though she was an intriguing character, I'm glad to leave her and her psychopathic ways in the pages of this novel!)

This novel is not without its flaws. It tries to do so much that it's a bit fragmented, and it sometimes veers toward heavy-handedness and melodrama. But overall it's such an amazing and profoundly moving work. No question: it gets all the stars!

Timshel.
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Reading Progress

February 3, 2015 – Shelved
February 3, 2015 – Shelved as: to-read
August 28, 2015 – Started Reading
September 11, 2015 –
page 37
6.15% ""There is something wrong, like it didn't get finished, like it happened too soon and left something out..."\n \n The letter was not signed. Maybe Charles forgot he had intended to destroy it and sent it along. But Adam saved it for a time, and whenever he read it again it gave him a chill and he didn't know why."
September 16, 2015 –
page 116
19.27% "Cathy is one of the scariest psycopaths I've read about in ages. o.O"
September 16, 2015 –
page 145
24.09% ""It must be a hard thing to kill a man you don't know and don't hate."\n \n "Maybe that makes it easier," said Louis.\n \n "You have a point, Louis. But some men are friends with the whole world in their hearts, and there are others that hate themselves and spread their hatred around like butter on hot bread.""
September 16, 2015 –
page 159
26.41% "Cathy had one quality required of a great and successful criminal: she trusted in no one, confided in no one. Her self was an island. It is probable that she did not even look at Adam's new land or building house ... because she did not intend to live here after her trap opened. But to his questions she gave proper answers; to do otherwise would be waste motion, and dissipated energy, and foreign to a good cat."
September 16, 2015 –
page 263
43.69% ""You can't make a race horse of a pig."\n \n "No," said Samuel, "but you can make a very fast pig.""
September 16, 2015 –
page 282
46.84% "Samuel rode lightly on top of a book and he balanced happily among ideas the way a man rides white rapids in a canoe. But Tom got into a book, crawled and groveled between the covers, tunneled like a mole among the thoughts, and came up with the book all over his hands and face."
September 18, 2015 –
page 287
47.67% ""I wonder if you really think he's that stupid," she said.\n \n And Will said out of his experience, "Sometimes a man wants to be stupid if it lets him do a thing his cleverness forbids.""
September 19, 2015 –
page 295
49.0% ""Do you take pride in your hurt?" Samuel asked. "Does it make you seem large and tragic?"\n \n "I don't know."\n \n "Well, think about it. Maybe you're playing a part on a great stage with only yourself as audience.""
September 20, 2015 –
page 303
50.33% ""The American Standard translation orders men to triumph over sin, and you can call sin ignorance. The King James translation makes a promise in 'Thou shalt,' meaning that men will surely triumph over sin. But the Hebrew word, the word timshel--'Thou mayest'--that gives a choice. It might be the most important word in the world... That throws it right back on a man.""
September 22, 2015 –
page 343
56.98% "He said, "I guess I'm a lazy man. And my father didn't help me when he left me enough to get along on without working." He dropped his eyes but he could feel the relief on the part of the Bacons. It was not laziness if he was a rich man. Only the poor were lazy. Just as only the poor were ignorant. A rich man who didn't know anything was spoiled or independent."
September 22, 2015 –
page 414
68.77% "In uncertainty I am certain that underneath their topmost layers of frailty men want to be good and want to be loved."
September 25, 2015 –
page 455
75.58% ""You see, there's a responsibility in being a person. It's more than just taking up space where air would be.""
September 27, 2015 –
page 479
79.57% "Nearly everyone has his box of secret pain, shared with no one."
September 27, 2015 –
page 553
91.86% "She leaned against the dining-room door and smiled at her girls, and her smile frightened them even more, for it was like the frame for a scream.\n \n --I'm finally going to finish this sucker!"
September 27, 2015 – Shelved as: classics
September 27, 2015 – Shelved as: historical-fiction
September 27, 2015 – Shelved as: literary-stuff
September 27, 2015 – Shelved as: made-me-think
September 27, 2015 – Finished Reading

Comments Showing 1-12 of 12 (12 new)

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message 1: by Roberto (new) - added it

Roberto Ramirez there's a movie with James Dean


Parthiban Sekar This is one of the books I love the most! Glad to see your 5 stars :D Oh, Lee and Hamiltons! I miss them already...


message 3: by Kevin (new)

Kevin I just finished Cannery Row, thanks for reviewing this, I'll be reading this shortly.


Tadiana ✩Night Owl☽ Kevin wrote: "I just finished Cannery Row, thanks for reviewing this, I'll be reading this shortly."

You're welcome. I've never read Cannery Row. I'll have to go check out your review. :)


message 5: by Michelle (new)

Michelle Curie This is one of my all time favorites, so glad you liked it!


Tadiana ✩Night Owl☽ Michelle wrote: "This is one of my all time favorites, so glad you liked it!"

Its a fantastic book, isn’t it? I'll have to read it again sometime -- I'll bet I missed a lot of nuances in it.


Tandie This is possibly the only Steinback I enjoyed. (I haven't made it past 40% in Grapes of Wrath).


Tadiana ✩Night Owl☽ Tandie wrote: "This is possibly the only Steinback I enjoyed. (I haven't made it past 40% in Grapes of Wrath)."

Some day I'll try Grapes of Wrath. And finish Les Miserables.


Tandie If memory serves, there was a horse named Necromancer and nothing bad happened to it or any other lovable animals. I think Steinbeck was a bit disturbed - have you ever noticed how often he kills animals?


Tadiana ✩Night Owl☽ Tandie wrote: "If memory serves, there was a horse named Necromancer and nothing bad happened to it or any other lovable animals. I think Steinbeck was a bit disturbed - have you ever noticed how often he kills a..."

I still haven't recovered from The Red Pony.

Hey, I'm in your area right now -- just passed through Rock Springs about an hour ago on my way up to Cody for a niece's wedding. :)


Tandie I've never been to Cody. Be careful on the roads after dark, those watch out for suicidal animal signs are the real deal. Keep wind chill in mind, not just temperature, when trying to determine if roads are frozen. You can check the cameras & conditions on WYDOT.

I am so not fun! I hope you have a great time! In the morbid Steinbeck animal spirit: Never swerve, even on dry roads. Causes so many rollovers. Just harden your heart, brake hard, and hit the sweet thing head on.


message 12: by A. (new) - rated it 5 stars

A. Dawes Magnificent.


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