Book Review: East of Eden – John Steinbeck

“And you have your choices
And these are what make man great
His ladder to the stars”
Timshel – Mumford & Sons

East of Eden
I have a new author crush.

This is my second Steinbeck novel and I am thoroughly smitten. East of Eden. I only read it because it is a classic, and now I know why. It’s surely one of the best novels I have read, not necessarily because of the story itself even though it was a sweeping epic kind of story, and not necessarily because of the characters, although they are now so real in my mind it feels like they are people I once knew. It was one of the greatest novels because of the way both the story and the characters so beautifully written, conveyed some of the greatest truths of human nature and our universal condition.

“There’s more beauty in truth, even if it is dreadful beauty.” ~ East of Eden, Chapter 28 part 2, p360

I came across a review of this book in which the writer complains that she didn’t like it because it was too dark and depressing. I fear they have missed the point entirely! The beauty and hope in East of Eden is because the author dares to explore the darkest rankest tendancies of people; lust, rage, jealously, hatred, cruelty and murder, and yet reminds us that the greatness of man is that we have choice. We can overcome our darkness and choose a different way.

“Now, there are millions in their sects and churches who feel the order, ‘Do thou,’ and throw their weight into obedience. And there are millions more who feel predestination in ‘Thou shalt.’ Nothing they may do can interfere with what will be. But ‘Thou mayest’! Why, that makes a man great, that gives him stature with the gods, for in his weakness and his filth and his murder of his brother he has still the great choice. He can choose his course and fight it through and win.”  ~ East of Eden, Chapter 24 part 2, p 305

This is a story that probes the age old questions about good, evil and free will. It carries the themes of love and hatred, fathers, sons and brothers, disappointment and hope. What is man? As I read I decided I’m glad I didn’t read this as a set novel in high school English class. I was far too naive about the world. Life was neatly divided, black and white, good and evil. And I was blissfully unaware at the depravity I too was capable of…thought too highly of myself and my idealistic world. I had the answer to everything. Yet now, a couple of years later and a few knocks and hurts and bumps along the way, I feel that this book came along at just the right time for me to appreciate the depth of it. It’s a keeper. I know I’ll read it again and dip into it’s lovely quotable-ness for many years to come.

“But I have a new love for that glittering instrument, the human soul. It is a lovely and unique thing in the universe. It is always attacked and never destroyed – because ‘Thou mayest.” ~ East of Eden, Chapter 24 part 2, p306



8 thoughts on “Book Review: East of Eden – John Steinbeck

  1. I recently read this book and also fell in love with it. I have mentioned it on my blog and sent a link here. Your review is appreciative and insightful. “We have only one story. All novels, all poetry, are built on the neverending contest in ourselves of good and evil. And it occurs to me that evil must constantly respawn, while good, while virtue, is immortal (p. 413).” This book was surely an epic!

    • Thanks for your comment and the link. I’m glad you liked it. I also like this quote you have added. There are so many quotable gems in this book. Just lovely.

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