It's been a while since I have blogged: work stuff, long book, other things going on... but after a beautiful, relaxing and enjoyable Spring Break in Florida, I was able to mow through a couple of books (further reviews to come) and also finish John Steinbeck's East of Eden. I give this book an emphatic 5 stars.
To begin, this book was epic. Besides the rather stupefying length (around 700 pages -- big, long pages with little print too) the depth and weightiness of the subjects of the book were more than dramatic.
The book is basically a story about a family -- The Trasks -- and the tale of 3 generations of this family. Starting in the East Coast and finishing in the Salinas Valley in California, this story focuses on the lives of a few individuals. Wrapped up in the story and weaving throughout the whole novel is the underlying focus of good vs. evil. In fact, part of the story is actually a retelling of the story of Cain and Abel.
Although the book starts a bit slow and struggles a bit in the final 100 pages (the plot suddenly seems a bit less interesting at spots), I really loved the book. The story was fascinating to read and the characters are so richly and carefully developed you immediately become familiar and emotional about each of them. Lee and Sam Hamilton are certainly two of my favorites. As this story covers nearly a century in time, there is plenty of birth and death and the cycle of life is certainly developed over and over.
The genius of the novel, however, is the constant depiction of good and evil throughout the characters in the novel. Steinbeck beautifully questions and re-questions what and where good and evil really come from. The old debate of nature vs. the environment are constantly reviewed. In fact, Steinbeck often refers to the Bible and the story of Cain and Able becomes a vital part of the novel.
I could write forever about the characters, the symbols represented, the motifs etc. in the book.... however, I would rather end with quote from the book that summarizes what this book (and life maybe? --- deep, I know) really means:
"I believe that there is one story in the world, and only one. . . . Humans are caught—in their lives, in their thoughts, in their hungers and ambitions, in their avarice and cruelty, and in their kindness and generosity too—in a net of good and evil. . . . There is no other story. A man, after he has brushed off the dust and chips of his life, will have left only the hard, clean questions: Was it good or was it evil? Have I done well—or ill?"
Can man choose to be good or evil or is that already forced upon a person from birth? I bet you'd like to know Steinbeck's answer to this...well, I won't tell you but next time you have a good break available and want to read a simply amazing story, pick up East of Eden. You won't be disappointed.