REVIEW // East of Eden by John Steinbeck

Published: 1952

My Edition: Here

Rating: 5/5

East of Eden was one of the more daunting books waiting to be read in my flat, and after putting it off for what felt like – and literally turned out to be – years, I have finally ticked it off my list.

Steinbeck’s tomb is a retelling of the book of Genesis, recalling the story of Adam and Eve, and, more importantly, the conflict between Cain and Abel. Surrounding two families – the Trask’s and the Hamilton’s – Steinbeck explores themes of identity, acceptance, love, and what it means to be rich and powerful.

I knew going into the novel that for Steinbeck, East of Eden was possibly the biggest accomplishment of his writing career. He is often quoted saying that it was his real “first” book, and that everything he wrote leading up to it was merely practice.

This is quite a big statement to make, especially from the author himself, so it is problems needless to say that my expectations going into East of Eden were fairly high. What I didn’t expect, however, is that they would be totally surpassed by a novel that truly, and madly, changed my view of the world.

Steinbeck’s writing has always been a favourite of mine. His short-novel Of Mice and Men is still the only book that has ever left me in tears, and is one that I have one copy of per bag that I own. Although criticised for being a bit slow, I have never personally felt that Steinbeck particularly drags on his scenes (**ahem** Dickens **ahem**). Maybe it’s the style of his writing – its poetic atmosphere coupled with brutalist realist prose – but I am consistently dragged in to the scenes of Salinas Valley where most of his books, including Eden, takes place.

Steinbeck is known for creating extremely well-rounded characters, and this was no exception. I found myself really drawn to Cathy and Cal in particular, and as it is a novel that shuffles through the generations, I found that their stories were the most intriguing to follow. Possibly the most detailed part of the book was the way the reader (myself, in this instance) could really trace the nature and nurture aspects that lead to Cal and Cathy turning out the way they did. Everything in this book had a place and a reason, and that includes even the most seemingly minute of details included in a characters past story.

What may have struck me the most about East of Eden was the family and power dynamics, as they seemed to be one in the same. For me, this was such a recognisable struggle. It is easy to love your family, but it is also easy – sometimes, easier – to be in constant competition with them. Steinbeck presents East of Eden with a varied cast of characters that ultimately are looking for the same thing – to be the most loved, and thus, the most powerful. Acceptance, wealth, and status in East of Eden seem to all boil down to one single thing – love. The love – or lack there of –  from a father, brother, mother, and/or partner is what brings common frustrations with things like money to a boil.

If you haven’t read East of Eden, or, like me, have been to frightened to pick it up, I urge you to do so immediately. Since finishing, I have thought and ruminated over the novel again and again, and seem to always come back to the conclusion that this is an experience I will keep learning from.