Saturday, April 16, 2011

Book Review: East of Eden, John Steinbeck

I have to get this out before I forget it, as Adam Trask might have said.
This is the first Steinbeck piece I have read, and let me say, it is epochal. I pride myself in that I read widely, and intensely. I like to think that I have been many places-- Renaissance Florence, 18th century Paris, ancient Rome, Hogwarts, into ghetto Chicago, inside the mind of Sylvia Plath. 
I have never been to the Salinas Valley, California, where resided Samuel Hamilton's family and the Adam Trask's family.
This novel is a novel of mammoth proportions; not only its length, but the strength and depth of its characters. It is the story of Samuel Hamilton, a man with ideas wild and untamable, with a tiny little religious wife and too many children and not enough money; it is the story of Adam Trask, his struggle with his father, his brother, the woman he loved and lost, of Lee, his devoted, intelligent Chinese servant, and his two sons, Aron and Caleb. It is also the story of America at the turn-of-the-century, and of the Great War. Is is a meditation on the land, of beauty abounding.
Pain is here too, he says. Pain unlike any I have encountered in literature; pain that is complicated, raw, and yet identifiable. Steinbeck brings to life the first murder, and puts Cain in a light I have never considered.
East of Eden is a classic American novel. I have such a deep appreciation for America after reading this. I tend to think of myself as elitist, even snobbish, from time to time; I have too much appreciation for the old, and not enough for the new. I worship learning and spurn common sense. Steinbeck is plain-speaking, easy to understand, yet eloquent. He speaks to you.
I heartily recommend this piece. It took me quiet some time to finish, due to school and activities that make sleep more attractive than reading, but it is worth it. It reaffirms some part of humanity in me that I forgot that I had. 

Too much for now. I still need to mull over it, chew it slowly, swallow, and let it fester inside me.

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