Thursday, September 19, 2013

East of Eden Book Review

by Karoline Kingley
The Magic Violinist, East of Eden, John Steinbeck, Karoline Kingley, book review,

East of Eden is considered John Steinbeck’s masterpiece. Although this is a grand compliment
seeing as his other works remain among the most famous books in American literature, it is an accurate judgment nonetheless. Allow me to say, that I had attempted to read Steinbeck in the past, and found it difficult to read past the first few chapters of The Grapes of Wrath and Of Mice and Men. This book, however, is different. It’s my new favorite novel just to give you an idea.

This review may be longer than others but I will do my best to concisely describe this 600 page masterpiece.

East of Eden is a story about the battle between good and evil. A retelling of the biblical account
of Cain and Abel, this story shows the struggles among different generations who must choose between what is in their blood and what is right.

One defining trait of this book is the fact that there doesn’t appear to be one main character, for each person is assigned their own day-in-the-sun in the story. The reader is first introduced to the standard of goodness, Samuel Hamilton. An easy-going story-telling Irishman with a holy-roller wife, Samuel is a sage even when a young man, and his fathering tendencies seem to beckon the weak and weary to take refuge under his wing. The author first introduces his point when we see how each of Samuel’s children manifest a different aspect of their father. It is not until the reader meets Charles and Adam Trask, that they realize generational curses are just as common as generational blessings.

Adam Trask has an older brother, Charles whose brooding countenance and violent tendencies
cause Adam to hate his own kin. Despite his harsh upbringing, Adam is naive and void of direction. Therefore, when Cathy (slash Kate), the epitome of all evil induces Adam to marry her, Adam’s life falls to further shambles. Cathy is what some folks might refer to as “a bad seed.” Even when a child there is no goodness to be found her. However, she does posses an uncanny perceptive ability. Cathy knows that while she possesses something nobody else has, all other humans have something she doesn’t. This desperation leads her to live purely for herself. After all, how can somebody with no regard of right and wrong possibly care for the feelings of others? Consequently, when Cathy bears Adam two twin boys, Cal and Aron, she leaves her husband.

Cal and Aron grow up to be as different as brothers could be, both in appearance and in disposition. Aron is handsome, kind-hearted and compliant. Cal on the other hand, has a more dark and brooding countenance, born with the same lenience to deceive that was in his mother. These stark differences of course demonstrate a similar relationship between Adam and Charles.

As the story unfolds, the reader begins to wonder whether there is hope for Cal. Cal loves his
brother and desires to be good, but he acknowledges that he has a greater tendency to sin. Like
his father, Aron is naiive and childish, even as an older teenager, and for that reason he cannot cope with the realities of life. Cal on the other hand, is concentrated on conquering his sinful nature. The reader rejoices when Cal rebels against the selfish blood born in him, and defeats evil.

Through the parallelism of characters, Steinbeck demonstrates how family traits can manifest
themselves for better or for worse. At first, the reader is nearly deceived based on the example of Samuel Hamilton’s children, that it is an excellent thing for children to take after their parents.
But Cal and Aron have been borne into a different legacy, and Cal takes the step that none of his relatives did by conquering the evil woven into his nature.

The battle between good and evil is something all mankind can relate to, and the author has
gifted the realm of literature with this encouraging account of a war which was won. Although the story itself transcends the attempts of most authors, the writing itself is a pristine example of how to write descriptive passages. My only caution is that THIS IS NOT A CHILDREN’S BOOK! I would highly suggest you be at least fifteen (preferably sixteen) before attempting to read this. Other story elements would probably be better enjoyed at that age anyway. I only offer this warning because it is necessary. There were certain passages and story features that were even a little hard for me to handle. In conclusion, everybody, writer or not, should read this book.

I would give--are you ready for this?--a 5/5 to East of Eden!

About Karoline Kingley:

Karoline Ott's profile photo I'm a 16 year old who enjoys writing, reading and blogging if course! I blog at "As a Teen Writer."


Anonymous said...

Great review!

Zelia said...

Great review. I think you would like the movie that follow the book pretty well. I did not like the mother of the two boys. She was my least favorite character.

Emily Foley said...

East of Eden is my favorite book of all time. The part in the middle where Lee explains the Hebrew translation of "timshel" as "thou mayest" instead of "thou shalt" was life changing for me. It changed my entire view of the commandments and my choice in following them, instead of being forced or compelled. I loved this book. I also loved The Grapes of Wrath so I must just be a Steinbeck fan. But I also agree that a certain level of maturity should be reached before it's read. I would not have loved this book in high school but a few years after college was just the right time (for me).

Karoline Kingley said...

Zeila - I'm really interested to see the movie! Thanks for the recommendation. Haha, Kate is defnitely NOT a likeable character.

Emily - It's my favorite book too, (followed closey by Pride and Prejudice.) I think the part you mentioned has to be my favorite scene. It makes me wonder if Stienbeck was a Christian himself; I think he at least must have had some biblical training at some point to be so familiar with the Bible. Either way, it was a powerful and convicting realization. I love how the truth of "timshel" manifested itself in Cal's life.

Boquinha said...

I must admit that this is one Steinbeck book I've not read, though I've read many of his others. I think Oprah really resurrected interest in this one. Thanks for the review!