East of Eden is a version of the Cain and Abel story from the Bible – two brothers both with different values in life – each one trying for the love of their father and trying to understand the prostitute mother who walked out on them and they never really knew. Caleb tries to win his father’s love by going into business growing beans to feed the army, but he is cruelly rejected when his father considers it to be “blood money”. Aron, the other brother, goes off to war to make their father proud. When he is killed, their father has a stroke. The book ends with the father uttering perhaps the most important word in literature – “timshel” Hebrew for “thou mayest” – indicating his belief that Cal will manage to overcome the evil nature he inherited from his prostitute mother. It is the one of the most perfect novels ever written and certainly Steinbeck’s masterpiece.
East of Eden is definitely the longest and most complex of Steinbeck’s writings. I enjoyed it a lot since Steinbeck is one of my favorite authors (along with Lewis Carroll and Philip K. Dick), and the story is eye opening in so many ways. My favorite quote from East of Eden was “When a child first catches adults out—when it first walks into his grave little head that adults do not have divine intelligence, that their judgments are not always wise, their thinking true, their sentences just—his world falls into panic desolation. The gods are fallen and all safety gone…. And the child’s world is never quite whole again. It is an aching kind of growing.” It can be a hard read, and it is a bit slow, but if you’re persistent, you can gain many rewarding insights.
Rating: **5 STARS***
Recommendations: Animal Farm by George Orwell, The little girl who was too fond of matches by Gaétan Soucy, and Very far away from anywhere else by Ursula le Grun