East of Eden

November 12, 2008

John Steinbeck (1902 - 1968)

At times in my past I have been a great devotee of the writing of John Steinbeck. His novel The Grapes of Wrath is one of my favorite books and, I believe, one of the most important American works of any era. (Here is a short radio story about the Grapes of Wrath.)

Somehow I never got around to reading his 1952 novel East of Eden until I picked up a copy in late summer and began reading it on the bus to and from work. This magnificent book explores three generations of the fictional Trask family and the real Hamilton/Steinbeck family in the Salinas Valley of California from the 1800s until World War I.

Along the way it explores such light themes as good and evil, love, war, politics, murder, insanity, prostitution, capitalism, time and modernity. Cathy (“Kate”) Trask is one of the most intense fictional characters I have ever encountered.

Reading the novel for about 20 minutes twice a day kept my mind constantly tuned to the flow of the work and more than once I found myself regretting that my bus ride (and eventually the book itself) would come to an end.

I may post a couple of excerpts that stood out from the rest and caused me to dog-ear multiple pages so I could find the passages again. [Update: Here is the first one.]

[Postscript: Alas, the book did end. I am going to continue the western expansion theme and I hope that a friend’s recommendation of Wallace Stegner’s Angle of Repose will fit the bill.]

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