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East of Eden

A book by John Steinbeck

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An Epic Family Classic

  • Nov 1, 2008
Steinbeck's epic novel, `East of Eden' is a depiction of his family's history in the Salinas Valley in California. Often the backdrop of many of his novels, `...Eden' is certainly more autobiographical than most of his works. The story branches off just like a family tree, and organically the characters blossom into full life.

Beginning with Cyrus Trask during the late 1800's, we develop a Jacob and Esau rivalry between his boys Charles and Adam. Cyrus is a martinet, so overbearingly so, that Adam joins the army just to get out of his sight. Later, when he returns, the boys have become men and continue their conflict, except Cyrus has died and left a small fortune to both of them. Much of the novel focuses on the transition each one takes to acquire land and place their wealth in the right direction.

From there Adam is the central focus of the story. He falls in love with a woman named Catherine (also Cathy or Kate) who is a local prostitute. Through him she bears a pair of twins, Caleb and Aron, who are destined to be as different as Adam and Charles were. Adam truly adores Kate despite her livelihood, but the relationship turns tempestuous. While he finds it easy to forgive her transgressions, he can't seem to tame her wily nature.

The remainder of the novel follows the aspirations of Adam's family, including Kate, whose conniving ways provide a colorful backdrop as Adam attempts to keep their mother's identity a secret until they are old enough to process her place in their lives. Many subplots intertwine with Aron being an aspiring college bound preacher who falls in love with Abra, a preacher's daughter, while Caleb tries to win his father`s affection as an entrepreneur at home. As a heartwarming touch, Lee, an Asian-American housekeeper, adds much to the drama as a second surrogate parent of sorts.

Reading Steinbeck's classic is delightful. I found the 601 pages to be a trademark page-turner from one of my favorite American authors. While I'll always revere 'The Grapes of Wrath (Penguin Classics)' as his most powerful classic, I now understand why `East of Eden' is considered among the upper echelon of his great works. 'The Winter of Our Discontent' and `Of Mice and Men' have an emotional immediacy that are his trademark, but his expertise is no less apparent in this novel with his ability to weave such an intricate and absorbing tale from beginning to end.

As poetic prose, Steinbeck's timeless work has been reaffirmed by becoming one of Oprah's prized "Book of the Month" selections.

(On a personal note, I'd like to add that 'The Red Pony' was the only Steinbeck novel I ever read in school. Apparently my educators saw the wisdom of leaving his legacy to my free time when I could savor his novels because I wanted to--and not because I had to. I read `Of Mice and Men' during summer break during college, but I read the bulk of his famous works during the early nineties. Enjoy.)

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More East of Eden reviews
review by . July 12, 2010
This book written by John Steinbeck tells a story of several characters whose lives are entwined.  Set in the late 1800's into the 1900's the story is written so that it is told from the perspective of different characters throughout and often has flashbacks to give the reader further understanding of the complicated social situations.  Because the story encompasses more years than your average novel, it helps paint the picture of our developing nation.  Each character is …
review by . June 30, 2010
   I first read East of Eden when I was twelve years old. Needless to say, I did not truly grasp it. However, I read it again twice in high school, and each time I read it I discover something new. Each time I read it I feel hopeful. Many think it is a depressing tale, too full of religion, too full of pain, however I find it full of hope. What i have taken most out of this book is "timshel." This word mean "Thou mayest." For Lee, this word changes his life. He tries …
Quick Tip by . August 26, 2010
This sweeping masterpiece is expertly woven by a master of epic novels.
review by . June 28, 2010
This is a classic!      Though the plot may be predictable, its style and character development truly merit its great recognition. Most of the characters are exaggerated and unrealistic. The overstatement and overemphasis of the characters' specific detail and idiosyncrasy that truly makes this book special.      John Steinbeck effectively uses characters to further bring objectivity. In this case, he employs Lee's objective nature to bring …
review by . August 11, 2010
I loved this book.  I love being invited into a story that was written so long ago, yet so relevant to our world today.  That defines a truly timeless classic in my opinion.
Quick Tip by . July 12, 2010
My all-time favorite book!!! A book that truly examines human character. Truly interesting and timeless with great lessons. A must read!!!
Quick Tip by . July 07, 2010
a very old book. read along with the grapes of wrath.
Quick Tip by . July 04, 2010
loved the movie
Quick Tip by . July 02, 2010
How is it possible to dislike all of the characters?
Quick Tip by . July 02, 2010
About the reviewer
John L. Peterson ()
Ranked #99
I am a substitute teacher who enjoysonline reviewing. Skiing is my favorite pastime; weight training and health are my obsessions;and music and movies feed my psyche. Books are a treasure and a pleasure … more
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About this book


Novel by John Steinbeck, published in 1952. It is a symbolic recreation of the biblical story of Cain and Abel woven into a history of California's Salinas Valley. With East of Eden Steinbeck hoped to reclaim his standing as a major novelist, but his broad depictions of good and evil come at the expense of subtlety in characterization and plot and it was not a critical success. Spanning the period between the American Civil War and the end of World War I, the novel highlights the conflicts of two generations of brothers; the first being the kind, gentle Adam Trask and his wild brother Charles. Adam eventually marries Cathy Ames, an evil, manipulative, and beautiful prostitute; she betrays him, joining Charles on the very night of their wedding. Later, after giving birth to twin boys, she shoots Adam and leaves him to return to her former profession. In the shadow of this heritage Adam raises their sons, the fair-haired, winning, yet intractable Aron, and the dark, clever Caleb. This second generation of brothers vie for their father's approval. In bitterness Caleb reveals the truth about their mother to Aron, who then joins the army and is killed in France. --The Merriam-Webster Encyclopedia of Literature--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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ISBN-10: 0142000655
ISBN-13: 978-0142000656
Author: John Steinbeck
Genre: Literature
Publisher: Penguin
Lists with this book
Polls with this book
1984 (British first edition)

Collection of Classics


A Fine Balance

Oprahs Book Club 2000-2009


First to Review

"A truly great book"
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