Kristin's Reviews > East of Eden

East of Eden by John Steinbeck
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it was amazing
bookshelves: classics, all-time-favorites, book-club-books
Recommended for: everyone!!

I am on a golden roll of amazingly fantastic books!! East of Eden by John Steinbeck was our book club pick for this month. I almost didn't read it. You see, it's an old friend...and I ALMOST didn't re-read it... and that would have been tragic.

East of Eden is an epic story about good and evil. It tells the story of two families: the Trasks and the Hamiltons. It spans 3 generations and retells the Biblical story of Cain and Abel set in the Salinas Valley of Northern California. experience...testimony. Do they change who we are? Do they change our world view? Most definitely. The first time I read East of Eden I had just turned 17 years old. It was summer vacation and I was looking for a good book to read. This book had such a powerful impact on me that I clearly remember where I was when I read it (laying on the couch in our living room) and the feelings it provoked. At this time I had only the smallest fleeting shadow of religion and virtually no knowledge of the Bible, and not much interest in philosophy. This was about 4 months before Stacey and I met the Nolan sisters and I returned to church. The discussion between Samuel, Lee, and Adam about the story of Cain and Abel was so profound to me that I began scribbling in the margins, underlining/highlighting things, and actually "pondered" on the nature of man. I grabbed my scriptures untouched since my baptism and turned to Genesis and began to read. God works in mysterious ways...and the spirit recognizes truth. Free will...of course...that made sense to me. "Thou mayest..." I had no understanding of Mormon Doctrine and Free Agency. But something rang absolutely "true" to me...that we have a choice and it is that choice that defines who we are. Powerful stuff for a religionless, scriptureless, self-involved 17 year old.

Fast forward 18 years and what a difference those 18 years have made. What a gift it was to read this book again farther down the road of life. At 17 years old I identified with the rejected child and at 35 years old I felt more the emotions of a parent who doesn't ever want her children not to feel loved and accepted. When I came to the chapter on the discussion of Cain and Abel I wasn't blown away by the "truth" of "thou mayest..." I felt more like..."Yep! That's how it works". But I was struck again by how powerfully important free will is. Isn't that why we fight for freedom and for the freedom of those around us? Without freedom there is no free agency and without free agency there is no plan of salvation. It IS the oldest is what we fought for in the premortal world...and it what we continue fighting for today. agency...the ability to do "otherwise".

At 35 years old I am much more knowledgeable of the scriptures and what is the major theme of the Old Testament in particular? Choice and consequences. Simple huh? Not only that but as is pointed out in the Introduction of East of Eden written by David Wyatt that the Bible "Has only one set of first parents but many Cains and Abels: Ishmael and Isaac, Esau and Jacob, the Prodigal Son and his brother, Satan and Christ--in each one of these twosomes one is somehow lucky, or better, or preferred." (pg. xxii)

Steinbeck says: "The greatest terror a child can have is that he is not loved, and rejection is the hell he fears. I think everyone in the world to a large or small extent has felt rejection. And with rejection comes anger, and with anger some kind of crime in revenge for the rejection, and with the crime guilt--and there is the story of mankind."

Some are put off by Steinbeck and his details and descriptions. I have criticized him myself while reading Grapes of Wrath. I felt like...come on...enough of the scenery let's get back to the story but in East of Eden I loved his details and descriptions. Steinbeck was also criticized by reviewers by leaving the story every so often for his monologues. I must say that at 17 years old I too found it annoying but at 35 years old I loved it. You see I have since developed a deep love of philosophy, politics, and history. I am continually reminded that history repeats itself. Each generation is always surprised that we feel and can relate to the same things as generations past. Many of Steinbeck's monologues that were relevant to the story which takes place in the late 1800's and early 1900's were also applicable to the time Steinbeck wrote the novel, the 1950's, and are still relevant today in 2008.

I particularly loved this quote:

"I don't know how it will be in the years to come. There are monstrous changes taking place in the world, forces shaping a future whose face we do not know. Some of these forces seem evil to us, perhaps not in themselves but in their tendency to eliminate other things we hold good...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...has entered our economics, our politics, and even our religion, so that some nations have substituted the idea collective for the idea of God. This in my time is the danger. There is great tension in the world, tension toward a breaking point, and men are unhappy and confused. At such times it seems natural and good to me to ask myself these questions. What do I believe in? What must I fight for and what must I fight against." (pg. 131-132)

Steinbeck wrote that he worried about his monologues and commentaries that "...had he not too often stopped the book and gone into discussions of God knows what. His only answer was 'Yes, I have. I don't know why. Just wanted too. Perhaps I was wrong.' " I don't think he was.

If it isn't blatantly obvious I LOVE this book!! One of my all-time favorites. Steinbeck is a genius and this book is his crowning glory. I love books that you come away from still have you thinking...for days...weeks. Was Adam Trask like what the original Adam would have been like if he had never fallen and only Eve did? WHY was Cathy the way she was? Are monsters born or created? What happens to Cal and Abra? What happens to Cal's children? Does the cycle continue? Is the cycle broken? Why is there only one lovable woman in the story?

READ THIS BOOK!! If you've already read it again.

I rate it: EXCELLENT!!
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Reading Progress

March 20, 2008 – Shelved
Started Reading
April 4, 2008 – Finished Reading
February 28, 2018 – Shelved as: classics
March 2, 2018 – Shelved as: all-time-favorites
March 28, 2018 – Shelved as: book-club-books

Comments Showing 1-12 of 12 (12 new)

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message 1: by [deleted user] (new)

Thanks for the review. It's good to know that there are books out there that will uphold the teachings of the church, rather than trying to tear them down. Definitely going to read this soon.

message 2: by [deleted user] (new)

Wow you really nailed this review, I just finished it up and your review was so dead on! I will say this though Lee has to be one of my favorite characters in any book I've ever read!

Lisa Thanks for the great review! I loved your personal insights.

Maren I love this review. Thank you for taking time to share your thoughts.

Zachary Royals I thought this was a wonderful review. I was definitely teetering on the idea of reading the book. However, after reading your review and being enlightened that there is a spiritual reward aside from the story. I'm convinced, additionally by your enthusiam, that this is a must read.

Pamela you convinced me! thanks for your review. i just put this book on my "to-read" list!

message 7: by Troy (new)

Troy G. Holy cow Kristin!!!
I want to be in your book club. What an amazing book review! East of Eden is my favorite book of all time, and you just convinced me to read it again. Well done.

message 8: by Tom (new) - rated it 5 stars

Tom Petrillo I honestly interpreted the book to be anti-church, though I doubt thats what the author intended. The attitude of Adam towards Cal is extremely upsetting and puts the Cain and Abel story into perspective.

message 9: by Jim (new) - added it

Jim Shelton Love your review Kristin. You've elevated East of Eden to next cab off the rank for me. Thanks!!

Marjorie Freedman the quote you pulled out (pages 131-32) are as true today as when they were written decades ago.

Hoang Chi Truong This one is unequivocally one of my favorite books and I plan to read it again. I treasured and savored each page and didn't want it to end. I live in California I love the Central Coast where the book took place. This added a favorable element to the story. There's so much wisdom and social commentary throughout. I love this book immensely!

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

Rene I appreciated your review—- especially the insights at two different points of your life.

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