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on March 29, 2004
Although I have not finished the book,East of Eden, I believe I have read enough of it to critique it.
The book is set in the early 20th century in the Salinas valley of California. The book is separted into three parts, two of which I have read. The two main characters are both men, one lives in California and one lives on the east coast. The two characters don't meat untill about 200 pages into the book. Each character has an interesting life, but the book seems to focus more on the character Adam, more than the other, Samuel. The character that lives in California, Samuel, has a family of 9 and is a very intelligent man. The character that lives on the east coast, Adam, grew up with an emotionally cold and detached military father. He and his older brother lived as bachlors untill Adam was about 40.
The begining of the story moves very slow, it is only when a third character is introduced, Cathy, that the story becomes interesting. Adam finds her beaten on his door step, nurses her back to health and marries her, but Cathy is an almost inhuman woman and never wanted to marry Adam. She is cold, distant, and calculated. Her real personality is shown by how she reacts to her and Adam's two sons when she gives birth.
John Steinbeck has given this story a plot similar to that of the biblical story of Cain and Abel. There is that type of sibling jealously not only between Adam and his brother, but also between Adam's two sons. Steinbeck rarley has all the charactes in this book coexist. For the most part, each chapter is about a speific character and their individual life, not how they exist with the other main characters in the book.
Overall I would say that this book moves much too slow for most readers. Although the detail is great, there is very little action or excitement. Every time the book seems like it is picking up, it goes right back to its slow pace. Out of what I have read so far, there has mabey been one whole page of action, combined. If you enjoy a long book full of vivid detail, this book is for you, but if you prefer drama and excitement in your reading, you will most likley not enjoy this book. On a scale of one to five, I would give this book a 3.
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on February 26, 2004
I cannot believe I haven't read this book sooner. I was taken in immediately by the sheer language of the author. The prose was so wonderfully descriptive that I could visualize every place, every item, every character- it was as if a movie was playing in my head as I read each word. It was a classic "good vs. evil" theme that was realistic in that the good don't always prosper and the evil don't always get what (we feel) they deserve. The character development was great. Some characters were more complex while some characters were really one-dimensional, however, I believe that was the intent of the author because it made the story work. The author made me have an opinion about each character, and whether I liked the character or not, I understood his/her actions and cared about what happened to them. I am now looking forward to reading and re-reading more Steinbeck novels and other classics.
You're probably wondering why I only gave this book a 3 star rating after all of this raving. I deducted a star because of one word - EDITING! I ran across mispellings, grammatical errors and punctuation errors. That is unacceptable for a published piece of writing. Especially for a classic work such as this. I am shocked that the editor and publisher did not pay closer attention to this. Otherwise, this book is an enjoyable read.
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on January 5, 2004
If you want to read an author who can almost effortlessly draw you into the tapestry of his characters, in 600 pages and yet without frittering away a single word, then you have to love Steinbeck! What makes this 1952 novel the timeless opus that I believe it is (now fortunately in new paperback version thanks to Oprah,) is that ANY reader can relate to it on so many levels.
You may find the story winding and complicated at the outset, peopled by characters that are often virtuous in some ways and flawed in others. But soon you'll realize how real these people are, and you'll be reading on if only to figure out what happens to each of them. The plot and the author's beautiful descriptive passages pull you along at a refreshing pace once you are into it.
Although the main character's name is Adam, it's the Biblical story of Cain and Abel that is played out over and over with characters whose names begin with "C" and "A". Adam's father, Cyrus, is quite the wild man. Adam's brother, Charles, tries to kill him. Adam's wife, Cathy, abandons him and their newborn twins to pursue the lifestyle of evil she cannot escape. Their children Aron and Caleb continue as opponents trying to vie for their father's attention until the bitter end.
And when you finish trudging through the entire thing, you'll feel like having actually lived and breathed the philosophies and lessons of a lifetime. Steinbeck's acute awareness of the interplay of his themes despite his lingusitic economy is an absolute joy to behold. His characters are specific and alive, mirroring real people and their foibles.
I highly recommend this classic piece of literature but be prepared to read. It's not your average pulp.
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on September 11, 2003
Without a doubt, this is good writing. This is a wonderful book for school reading and book club discussions. However, if you want to kick back and enjoy a fun book, I don't think this is it. There were times when I was bored. At times when I had to put the book down, I found it hard to pick it up again. Once I considered giving it up completely.
There are quite a bit of profound discussions (about life, morals, family, etc) between the characters Lee, Samuel, and Adam. Half the time, I haven't a clue as to what they're saying (I may not be an intellect, but I'm not dumb either). I had to re-read some of the lines or paragraphs to get a better understanding, only to find that some of the verbiage was irrelevant to the story. It seemed such a chore having to constantly interpret what they said into simple English.
Steinbeck sets up each scene by giving us some insight into history, or by describing the land and people. For most part, I found it to be overly descriptive; some parts either too long and dragged out or simply unnecessary. Also, much of the descriptions are repetitive. It�s burnt into my brain that Cathy has tiny pointed teeth, that Aron has a pretty face, that Ethel is dumb. I must admit though, however boring it was, it did helped to paint a clear picture in my mind as I was reading the book. I guess that's what makes it good writing!!!
All in all, I�m glad I read this book.
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on September 10, 2003
I feel almost guilty for not liking this book more.
I was excited to read East of Eden. I think it is fabulous that Oprah decided to reinstate her book club with a focus on the classics. In addition, "Of Mice and Men" and "Grapes of Wrath" were highpoints in my junior and high school English classes. Even the themes, Cain versus Abel, good versus evil, destiny versus free will, seemed so potentially powerful, juicy and deep.
Yet I found myself only mildly immersed in the novel. The symbolism seemed overdone, the dialogue unnatural, the character development lacking. A very masculine read, most of the female characters, with the exception of Abra, were either extremely unlikable or underdeveloped. If Cathy's role as the evil temptress is a nod to Eve in the Bible, it seemed a bit extreme.
To be honest, the story does weave the themes throughout the story in an interesting way. Steinbeck's descriptive narrative can be beautiful, but can also be a bit long winded. Sam Hamilton, the wise, bumbling lover of words and dreams, and Lee, the Trask family servant and subtle family advisor, were interesting characters.
At times, I felt that Steinbeck was looking for opportunities to brag about his ancestry and these side bars were not always of much value in the long saga.
In a nutshell, I felt reading this book was an accomplishment, one that brought relief when it was over.
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on July 6, 2003
If you've read any of Steinbeck's other books, don't expect anything different from this one. You either love him or you hate him. I've never been a fan of his, but it had been a while and having made such an impression on Oprah, I decided to give East of Eden a shot.

It seems trite to say the book was depressing, but heck, it was really depressing. The message is that we all have free will, but that's not breaking news to me and reading it was too much like tedious homework. The lesson was conveyed and learned, but it was not an enjoyable process. I just couldn't connect with the characters which, in my humble opinion, were never developed enough to incite any real empathy from me. I just watched on in disgust.
In looking back, I recognize the genius and the simplicity of the theme and how he incorporated it into the novel. I'll also admit (reluctantly) that the book was very well written and successfully delivered the message. I applaud Steinbeck's writing skills, which is the only reason I gave it 3 stars.
Alas, in the spirit of the book, we all have free will, so I won't choose to read Steinbeck again. I was disappointed in the read, but I'm sure my book club's discussion will be interesting. If you are in a book club or want something to talk about at the water cooler, then have at it. If you are just getting back into reading or looking for a good book to sink into, I would suggest you look elsewhere. If you don't know where to start, look at the reviews from a favorite book, find someone who had a similar opinion and look at that persons lists and other reviews. I've found some real gems that way.
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on July 3, 2002
I must say that I'm truly in awe of John Steinbeck's uncanny ability to write such a masterful novel with so many intracies and fill six hundred pages with an engaging story without wasted words.
I know that the story is not supposed to be completely realistic, and it should have some mythical quality to it; however, the huge flaw with this book is the long and abundant philosophical dialogue. The characters bring up abstract ideas by the dozens, and sometimes it is way too much for one novel.
One minor flaw is the exaggeration of a few personalities, such as Sam Hamilton. He is exalted by the narrator in such a way that I grew tired of reading about his endless quirks and subtleties page after page.
The rest of the book makes up for these flaws, but not entirely. Many of the relationships are gripping and interesting, especially between Charles and Adam, and Cal and Aron, two pairs of brothers from different generations.
Kate is the mythical character, acting like a serpent in the garden of Eden - she is probably the best and most interesting part of this book.
Characters Lee and Sam Hamilton should have been played down. In the later pages of the book, John Steinbeck seems more concerned about surprising the reader with annoyingly unexpected philosophies on life instead of subtly driving in the themes of the story.
I also wish that the story of Cain and Able were not directly mentioned and stated by the characters. We the readers should be allowed to discover or see the metaphors ourselves. East of Eden became a less interesting metaphor as soon as Lee and Sam suggested naming two twin boys Cain and Abel.
Best line of the book: "Am I supposed to look after my brother?"
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on June 2, 2002
East of Eden has so much potential to be a book which has more of a satisfactory impact. This book, was at times poorly written, contradictory, confusing, and unfortunately boring. I say the book was poorly written at times because John Steinbeck spent so much time writing this book (several years I believe) and he could not manage to create many characters which interested me. Also, he included too many characters which were not important to the novel and even makes it unclear who the narrator is in the novel. I think the book is somewhat hypocritical because the novel's emphasis on freewill as one of its themes is not expressed through all the characters. Cathy Ames for instance, is condemmned as a devil during the entire course of the novel. How can you claim that freewill exists, and then permanently condemn one of your characters to a satanic status? I think that makes the book boring because it causes the plot to be too predictable, and at some points dry and corny. I am not saying that this book was completely awful though. The three stars I gave were for, the decent character development of Charles, and the insightful amorphisms provided by Lee, the Chinese servant of Adam. Also, Steinbeck's development of Cathy also had its strong points, but overall, I was disappointed at the way many character's dealt with their dilemmas. At times I was left feeling jipped at the outcome, or craving for more than what was provided. Overall, the book has strong themes, and a sufficient plot, but is hindered by its poor organization and mild character development.
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on June 2, 2002
East of Eden has so much potential to be a book which has more of a satisfactory impact. This book, was at times poorly written, contradictory, confusing, and unfortunately boring. I say the book was poorly written at times because John Steinbeck spent so much time writing this book (several years I believe) and he could not manage to create many characters which interested me. Also, he included too many characters which were not important to the novel and even makes it unclear who the narrator is in the novel. I think the book is somewhat hypocritical because the novel's emphasis on freewill as one of its themes is not expressed through all the characters. Cathy Ames for instance, is condemmned as a devil during the entire course of the novel. How can you claim that freewill exists, and then permanently condemn one of your characters to a satanic status? I think that makes the book boring because it causes the plot to be too predictable, and at some points dry and corny. I am not saying that this book was completely awful though. The three stars I gave were for, the decent character development of Charles, and the insightful amorphisms provided by Lee, the Chinese servant of Adam. Also, Steinbeck's development of Cathy also had its strong points, but overall, I was disappointed at the way many character's dealt with their dilemmas. At times I was left feeling jipped at the outcome, or craving for more than what was provided. Overall, the book has strong themes, and a sufficient plot, but is hindered by its poor organization and mild character development.
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on June 1, 2002
East of Eden, written by John Steinbeck, takes the reader back to the early 1900's, when horses were being replaced by automobiles and California still had open, fertile land for beans. The competitive relationship between twin brothers follows the story of "Cain and Abel", but is easily followed by a reader who is not Christian.
I recomend this book for the teenage readers. Although filled with numerous chapters, the book reads easily. With an intricate plot and characters whose secrets are slowly unraveled, Steinbeck creates a novel full of characters with complex emotions, motives and relationships. Although rarely a dull moment exists for the Trask family and their companions, the book encompasses so many characters that it takes some getting used to Steinbeck's ever-changing focus in the chapters. The book often introduces an under-developed character who dies, unfortunately, directly after the reader has formed an attachment to him.
I would not say that this book should become a part of your permanent library, but it deserves consideration. John Steinbeck is a creative writer and easily displays this in East of Eden.
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