Five Star Book: East of Eden by John Steinbeck

“Maybe I will tell you some time when I can tell and you want to hear.” “I’ll want to hear,” Samuel said. “I eat stories like grapes.”

There are a lot of books on my “to-read shelf” that I feel like I have to read, like it’s somehow a crime that I got through 15 years of formal English education without reading The Grapes of Wrath. It can be hard for me to pick those books up. (I ended up listening to the audio book of Grapes, and I appreciated it.) And appreciation was all I was really expecting from East of Eden. I knew that Steinbeck was a master of bleak, beautiful, if slightly preachy, books about struggling people, what I didn’t know is that he could write a gripping story.

The summary of East of Eden, the intertwining histories of two families who come together in turn of the century Salinas Valley, California, does not do it’s narrative power justice. This is an epic, spanning generations and sweeping themes. But it’s also, fun, there is a great drama that I don’t want to spoil one second of, except to say that the villain in this book might be the most twisted and compelling character I’ve ever met on the page. For that matter, every character from the hilarious and brilliant servant Lee to the local brothel’s thug, seem like real people who despite their flaws (and they all have a lot of flaws) I would love to meet at least one.

The book does have moments of Steinbeckian sermonizing about the land and the nature of humanity, but they didn’t bother me as much as they did in the other books of his I’ve read. Again I think this is because I was so attached to the characters that it felt like even the grand speeches about America and land and war and hope were giving me some insight into these mysterious people he had brought together.

This one invaded my head; I was washing my dishes last night and found myself thinking about what would have happened to Abra after the book ended. I can’t wait to see the movie now (I’ve already been warned that it’s very different, but James Dean…)


“Tom got into a book, crawled and groveled between the covers, tunneled like a mile among the thoughts, and came up with the book all over his face and hands.”



3 thoughts on “Five Star Book: East of Eden by John Steinbeck

  1. East of Eden is one of my all time favorite books. I feel like people are quick to dismiss Steinbeck because he can be so bleak, but I find this book so inspirational. Timshel, especially, has stuck with me after all this time.

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