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East of Eden by John Steinbeck (Book Review)

Confession: I am not a Steinbeck fan. Or at least, I wasn’t. Maybe it was too many years at too young an age reading Grapes of Wrath and Of Mice and Men. I’ve often wondered what I might think of both those books now versus on the English teacher’s “must be read” list of junior high. So, when I received East of Eden at Christmas last year and having never really seen the movie – bits and pieces only – I wondered what I might make of the book in my adult years.

Well, consider me officially converted. Originally, the title of this post had a tail of (the story so far…). Except the other morning, when I sat down to read a chapter or two before diving into some work, well, I discovered I couldn’t put it down. And so it was, I read from chapter 39 to 55, in the space of a morning and into the early afternoon. I had to know what happened to Adam, Charles, Aron, Caleb, Lee, Samuel, Tom, Cathy/Kate, and Abra.

These were the characters left, for the most part, by chapter 39. But, from the beginning, the reader has watched them grow up. Every. One. Even Lee, who to me is the Jiminy Cricket of the story, and the glue which holds Adam’s world together. Now, I had an unusual addendum to my book. Between the inscription and the authored pages was a stapled manuscript of sorts. It was something akin to a literature review and broke down the story into bite-sized pieces of why Steinbeck had written the story and what inspired it. Since its Easter week, and we’re on a bit of a biblical theme, so to speak, the takeaway from East of Eden is this. Its premise is ultimately that of the story of Cain and Abel which you can see in the alliteration of the names of the brothers – Adam and Charles, Caleb and Aron.

Add into the mix the Samuel Hamilton family, an Irish immigrant, whose perennially bad luck with where his farm was located left his land poor, but he was wealthy. Not wealthy in the sense of money, but wealthy in the way we’re taught to be – family, friends, loved ones, and happy in life. He was a father figure of a sort to all he came into contact with and the direct opposite of Adam’s own father who created a mold and forced one son into it and let the other be.

At each coming-of-age story of the sons, there was the giving of gifts and the expectation that the gift worth more would be, well…worth more. Yet, a we know, such is not always the case.

I’m not sure if both Samuel Hamilton and George Trask would have seen eye to eye. But it seems a curious case as Sam Hamilton toiled at the land which wouldn’t produce and George Trask, Adam’s and Charles’s father, toiled at a life he genetically-engineered to produce what he could in the way of success. One by honest work and another through is visionary-like quality to spin tales.

There is a particularly touching scene in which Samuel Hamilton, Adam Trask, and Lee, Adam’s manservant are having a philosophical discussion about a particular word in the Bible. As many leave the teachings open to interpretation, it was interesting to read Lee’s tale in which he and several of his kin spent nigh on two years debating one.single.word. When it was broken down to its original Hebrew, the term translated to neither “can” nor “will” but to “thou mayest.” It is the Steinbeckian “rosebud” made so famous by Orson Welles in Citizen Kane. I won’t tell you the word here. I will simply recommend you pick up the book for a read and find in it a world not too unlike our own.

We are the Sam Hamiltons and the Adam Trasks bound up and held together by Lees. Cathy/Kate is the darkness we fear and the uber familiar story of two brothers who seek a father’s love, and sometimes pay a price too dear. Set in the Salinas Valley of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, two families lives are played out against the backdrop of the California desert just east of Steinbeck’s Eden.

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As much as I’d love you to connect with me via social media – you can find all the ones I’m on in the bar to your right – I’d much prefer a review of my book currently available on Amazon, “Reflections: The Girl in the Mirror & The Letter”. Currently, it’s got one lonely review. And for less than a cup of coffee, it sure could use a friend or two or ten…. Oh, and we’re on Goodreads too!

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© Lisa Street Rogers 2018