Wednesday, January 31, 2018

East of Eden by John Steinbeck.

“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.”

Well, damn. Why did it take me so long to read this? WHY? People have been telling me for years that East of Eden was their favorite by Steinbeck and that it ranks up there as one of the best of the best. And all that hype and pushing made me just ignore it sitting on my shelf, while I read all of its other brothers. But while The Grapes of Wrath and The Pearl and Of Mice and Men all have their glory and beautiful language and messages and themes, they aren't East...) of Eden

Maybe that's exaggerated because I love all those other Steinbecks as well (maybe not The Pearl), but there is something about East of Eden that I think will sit with me for a long time. 

In short, it's a novel about family and how families function. It's also a story about hope, goodness, and perseverance. It's also about a woman who I can't make my mind up about-was she just a crazy lady? Was she an early feminist, trying to push away from the role others were trying to force her into? Or was she something else entirely? I think I'll be mulling that one over for weeks.

But really, the novel is about the Trask family-Adam and Charles, the sun of Cyrus Trask. It's also about Adam's two sons, Caleb and Aron. It's also about the Hamilton family-wise old Samuel being my favorite. The story evolves over time, spanning from Adam and Charles' childhood in the East, to Adam moving west with his bride Cathy (see crazy lady from above), to the lives of Cal and Aron as they grow up and learn to be men. It's filled with secrets and devastation. There were moments when I gasped and kept flipping pages, resulting in some very rough mornings. But it left me with a sense of hope.

I think one of the things I really took away was Timshel, the word highlighted in the passage above. A lot of the novel mirrors the Biblical story of Cain and Abel, and a couple of the characters-Sam and Adam-discuss that story. Was Cain destined to be evil? Was it his choice? 

It's an interesting discussion, and the events of the novel explore the idea of what it means to be good, what it means to bad. It contrasts truly good characters, like Lee, against those who are evil-like Cathy. It gets you thinking about what it means to be good, and what it means to be evil. Do we have to fight to be good? Are some of us born with evil in our hearts? It makes you wonder.

The language, as expected from Steinbeck, is flowing and rich. As a majority of the story takes place in the Salinas Valley, a place Steinbeck knew well and wrote about often, it flies off the page in lush detail, drawing you in. I've come to love Steinbeck's depictions of nature and American life, and he is at his best in East of Eden

I can't believe I waited this long to read it.

“I believe a strong woman may be stronger than a man, particularly if she happens to have love in her heart. I guess a loving woman is indestructible.” 

I loved this novel and I feel as though my words don't do it justice. But I'm going to cherish it as a favorite and join all those "pushers" to get more people to read it. 

“And now that you don't have to be perfect, you can be good.”

*This was the second book from my 2018 TBR Challenge that I read! 2 books down in the first month-go me!


  1. Oh man, I'm so glad you loved it. And that's it, I'm re-reading it this year.

  2. Such a good book! Now you have to read Journal of a Novel: The East of Eden Letters. ;-) - jillian

  3. I felt the same way when I finally got around to reading Anna Karenina.

  4. I read this pre-blogging, but it's also my favourite Steinbeck and I love that you picked one of the main things that made me love this book - the discussion around timshel. I'm fascinated by the art of translation and how the slightly different choice of word by the translator can completely change the meaning of a text that so many hold to be a truth. It was a memorable discussion that has stuck with me all these years.

  5. Two TBR books in one month puts you ahead of schedule for the big "win!" Way to go - you're slaying it with reading and blogging so far in 2018. 'Tis the year of the RENAISSANCE for us old hats?