If you’ve read this book, then it’s probably your favourite book.
East of Eden is Steinbeck’s masterpiece, and I would say it’s one of the most beautiful books the English language has to offer. I don’t have much to say about it, because it’s a book you must experience to understand. The prose is stunning, filled with lavish descriptions of the landscape and of characters that make them feel so incredibly alive. Like most good works, the setting is a character, influencing others and the lives they live.
East of Eden tells the story of the Trask family and the Hamilton family. I call it a family epic, because that’s what it is: you follow generations of these families, and you follow some characters from birth until death. Within the Trask family, the story of Genesis is told and retold, particularly the story of Cain and Abel. It is Genesis, but it’s not Genesis: it’s a modern retelling, where Eve is a heartless whore and the Cain characters are full of too much. It’s the story of falling, but it’s also a story of getting back up: as long as there is land, and as long as there is love, there is hope.
What I loved most, other than the beautiful prose, is the theme of family and generations. You follow these characters, and you see how they become who they are, and how they change, and the influence of parents– fathers especially– affects our choices and who we are. Sins of the parents are passed down to the children, but the novel makes sure to emphasize choice as well: our family and our history does not have to be our future. There is always a choice, a choice to be mean, or a choice to be good. Your history can shape you, but it doesn’t have to define you.
“And now that you don’t have to be perfect, you can be good.”
There is so much to say, but I fear I cannot say enough. Everything this book is boils down to one word: Timshel.
And you’re going to have to read it to understand why.
But let me just assert: this is a beauty of a novel, and you should do yourself a favour and read it. It has easily become one of my favourites, and I look forward to reading it again and again and again…
5 stars out of 5.