Boy oh boy. I finally made it! I finished East of Eden! It had been a while since I sunk my teeth into a beast of a book, and I set my sights on this heavy sucker. I think it was because I was going to tackle the Grapes of Wrath but my local library didn’t have it in stock, so I went for the behemoth, clocking in at 601 pages.
It took renewing it twice, and um, checking it out twice, but I prevailed! I’m a pretty quick reader, but this was such a dense and interesting book I didn’t want to power through it. It was as outstanding as Steinbeck has alluded to, as he refers to it as the “first book.” He tells a tale of family and history of biblical proportions in California’s Salinas Valley, as two families relive the tale of Cain and Abel, brother’s who are pitted against their own eternal demons, and the forces at play in a changing world.
The book begins with the Trask brothers, sons of a celebrated war hero. One sent to war, the other staying behind to farm and be alone with his bitterness. At the same time, we hear of the Hamiltons, with a kind patriarch, a hardened mother, and impossible land, trying to eek out an existence. These families eventually converge, and we see challenges of humanity, coming of age, the ever-ticking presence of mortality, play out for both, until eventually they are in the same sphere and interact as each makes their way.
Trying to summarize this book would be like trying to summarize the entire bible, so I am not even going to give it a proper go. Suffice it to say that it is impossible to pick a favorite character, or moment, as this book is just flush with great characters and an amazing narrative. This book is such a rich tapestry of human existence. Complex and authentic characters who run the gambit from naive to downright unapologetically evil, you will never be bored. I didn’t know much about this book going in, but I didn’t expect it to go to such dark and unforgiving places. But every passage, be it one that details the raw reality of war, musings on the hard life of our ancestors, or a character coming to grips with the horrors of their own creation is crafted with detail and keen observation of the human condition. This is the kind of book that will leave you awestruck at the creativity, dedication, and vision of the author.
Also, sidebar, can we talk about how throughout his life Steinbeck signed his letters with his own personal “pigasus” logo, which symbolized himself as “a lumbering soul but trying to fly?” Because that is just awesome.
So, tl;dr. This book is amazing and everyone should read it.