East of Eden by John Steinbeck

For our July historical fiction book, my book club selected to read East of Eden by John Steinbeck. I had previously read two books by the same author—The Grapes of Wrath in high school and Of Mice and Men when my daughter was in high school. While I liked both of those books, if it wasn’t for my book club, I’m not sure I would ever have read East of Eden. I am so glad I read it as it is now one of my favorite books of all time.

The book was written by Steinbeck for his sons. He wanted them to know about his family and the Salinas valley in California where he grew up. Steinbeck’s grandfather, Samuel Hamilton, is a close friend of the main character in the novel, Adam Trask. The book tells the story of Adam and his two sons, Caleb and Aron. It is often described as a modern retelling of Cain and Abel. I think it is more accurate to say that it explores the same themes as the story of those two brothers. And those themes are universally human—good, evil, justice, family, duty, responsibility. In short, the human condition.

And that is why this book is one of my favorites. I generally read a lot of science fiction. My favorite kind of sci fi is stories that take what is happening today and push it into the near future, exploring how the changes affect people and how they deal with what it means to be human. This book does the same thing, but instead of looking forward into the future, it looks back into the past. There are a lot of really human characters with lots of flaws. The author treats them all with respect. While the first chapter or two are a little slow, it grabbed me right after that and wouldn’t let go. I can see why Steinbeck considered this his master work.

My rating: 5/5

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