Review – East of Eden

Title : East of Eden
Author : John Steinbeck
Publisher : Penguin
Published : 2001
Page : 736 pages
My Rating : 3.5/5

The masterpiece of one of the greatest American writers of all time. East of Eden is an epic tale of good vs. evil with many biblical references and parallels. The story is ultimately that of good’s triumph over evil and the human will’s ability to make that happen.

Thought on This Book :

“There’s more beauty in truth, even if it is dreadful beauty.”

Finally, finished with this thick book. Phew….

I read this book for my personal project reading classics books that inspiring one of my favorite band, Meg and Dia, to create their song. East of Eden is one of those books. The song based on a character in this book, Cathy Ames, is titled Monster.

East of Eden is a story about two families entangled inside unending battle between good and evil. Both of Trasks and Hamiltons, although came from very different background, were newcomer to Salinas Valley, the major setting in this book.

Adam Trask’s childhood was consisted of his stern father, a half-brother, and stepmother. His mother committed suicide when he was a baby. His brother Charles was very different from him in any aspects. Charles was strong and rough, while Adam is weak and gentle. Charles loves power and enjoys the fights and used to protect Adam from other kids’ mean pranks. But things went different when Charles found out that their father loved Adam more than him.

Adam then joined the army, while Charles running the ranch. When their father died, Adam came home to live with his brother. The appearance of beaten Cathy Ames in their doorstep swayed Adam, as he quickly fallen in love with the girl. He took her as his wife and moved to Salinas Valley, leaving his brother behind. There, he met with the Hamiltons, the immigrant from Ireland. It was the Hamiltons – particulary Samuel Hamilton- who helped him through the difficult times of repeated history.


Salinas Valley. source : wikipedia. edited by Ra.

The story moves with rather slow pace, not leaving any important events behind. John Steinbeck positioned himself as a narrator, as the Hamiltons are his mother’s family, told us details of the story clearly. There are two major parts in this book; both are based on Cain and Abel story from Bible. I enjoyed the first part with Adam and Charles, but immediately found the second part with Cal and Aron is a bore. It felt just like the same. Same premise and all, got repetitive all over. I can understand that with this twin plots Steinbeck wanted to emphasize the moral story of Cain and Abel, but for me it just ridiculously repetitive and tiring. It’s a relief that the story wrapped up nicely in the end.

I don’t think there’s much to talk about the characters. Adam vs. Charles = Abel vs. Cain = Aron vs. Caleb. Adam Character is taken from Abel, which also descended to his son, Aron. While Charles character is based on Cain’s, which also the character that Caleb possessed. The Hamiltons were just the nice people. Ordinary, but nice. Not too memorable except for Samuel Hamilton. Lee is one character that I really liked. His friendship with Adam and his affection towards Adam twin sons is just too adorable, when he’s originally a servant. I wanted to break to the tears when he came back to Trask’s house after said that he’s leaving, and how Adam welcomed him.

Cathy Ames, in other hand, probably is the strongest character in this book. Her twisted personality is, while cruel and cunning and manipulative, enchanting. John Steinbeck himself said that he invested many times into her character, and stated that Cathy Ames is evil, a “psychic monster” with a “malformed soul”. But, although I found her character interesting, I still can’t understand how she became like that. It never explained. Maybe it is enough just with statement that she is the epitome of evil? Well, I don’t know.

Jennifer Lawrence Cathy Ames

Jennifer Lawrence as Cathy Ames in the upcoming East of Eden movie adaptation. source : link. edited by Ra.

One major winning point of this book for me is the writing style. It is so rich and detailed, but simple. Steinbeck’s way for narrating and at the same time describing things is outstanding. It’s not that I was sucked into the book. Rather, it is the world inside the book came out to me. The choices of the word are so good and the sentences are beautiful. Sure, it got repetitive in some parts, and maybe some people would find this rather annoying. But I enjoyed the writing style so much. This is certainly one writing that I would not easily to forget.

Of other things, reading East of Eden is a pleasant experience for me. While I enjoyed reading John Steinbeck’s writing here, I found it rather boring in some parts due to the long story with not too complex plot. Sometimes, the narrations are too prolix, but other times are just good. I also notice that while the book is based on Biblical story, the theme and the moral value are universal in human life. (I am not a Christian myself). The battle between good and evil is a long history that also will always happen in our present and future, and we are given the choice between them.

At the end; Timshel! Thou mayest!



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