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East of Edenby John Steinbeck
I was once told a good novel will set its tenor by the end of its first page, so lately I've been skimming the first page of prospective reads to test this theory. When I did this with Steinbeck's East of Eden, I couldn't stop; the assault of great writing never let up, and I knew I was irretrievably in for the long haul. No one writes exactly like Steinbeck, and this century-spanning book about two families in California's Salinas Valley finds the writer at his culminating genius (Steinbeck said, "I think everything else I have written has been, in a sense, practice for [East of Eden]."). His prose is vivid, fine, and panoramic in vision; his characters are so richly cast that he's capable of inducing a genuine sense of the glories and tragedies they experience. I read this book so compulsively (I stayed up till 4:00 a.m. one night / cancelled dates with friends / ate soup from a can) that I'm almost mad at myself for not savoring it more slowly, but there's ample consolation in Steinbeck's prolific career for any of his insatiable, expectant readers. Good follow-up read: Journal of a Novel: The East of Eden Letters.
Synopses & Reviews
In his journal, John Steinbeck called East of Eden "the first book," and indeed it has the primordial power and simplicity of myth. Set in the rich farmland of California's Salinas Valley, this sprawling and often brutal novel follows the intertwined destinies of two families — the Trasks and the Hamiltons — whose generations helplessly reenact the fall of Adam and Eve and the poisonous rivalry of Cain and Abel.
Adam Trask came to California from the East to farm and raise his family on the new, rich land. But the birth of his twins, Cal and Aron, brings his wife to the brink of madness, and Adam is left alone to raise his boys to manhood. One boy thrives, nurtured by the love of all those around him: the other grows up in loneliness, enveloped by a mysterious darkness.
First published in 1952, East of Eden is the work in which Steinbeck created his most mesmerizing characters and explored his most enduring themes: the mystery of identity, the inexplicability of love, and the murderous consequences of love's absence.
"The book that brought the book club back!" Oprah Winfrey
"A novel planned on the grandest possible scale...One of those occasions when a writer has aimed high and then summoned every ounce of energy, talent, seriousness, and passion of which he was capable...It is an entirely interesting and impressive book." The New York Herald Tribune
"A fantasia and myth...a strange and original work of art." The New York Times Book Review
"A moving, crying pageant with wilderness strengths." Carl Sandburg
A masterpiece of Steinbeck's later years, East of Eden is a powerful and vastly ambitious novel that is at once a family saga and a modern retelling of the Book of Genesis.
This sprawling and often brutal novel, set in the rich farmlands of California's Salinas Valley, follows the intertwined destinies of two families — the Trasks and the Hamiltons — whose generations helplessly reenact the fall of Adam and Eve and the poisonous rivalry of Cain and Abel. "A strange and original work of art." New York Times Book Review
About the Author
John Steinbeck, born in Salinas, California, in 1902, grew up in a fertile agricultural valley, about twenty-five miles from the Pacific Coast. Both the valley and the coast would serve as settings for some of his best fiction. In 1919 he went to Stanford University, where he intermittently enrolled in literature and writing courses until he left in 1925 without taking a degree.
Steinbeck received the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1962, and, in 1964, he was presented with the United States Medal of Freedom by President Lyndon B. Johnson. Steinbeck died in New York in 1968. Today, more than thirty years after his death, he remains one of America's greatest writers and cultural figures.
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