John Steinbeck drew inspiration from the Biblical story of the exodus of the Jews from Egypt as he crafted his Pulitzer and Nobel Prize winning novel, "The Grapes of Wrath." In another of his epic novels, "East of Eden," he once again turned to the Bible, this time transforming its ages-old story of Cain and Abel and the struggle between good and evil into a modern-day story with centuries-old themes.
"East of Eden" follows two families, the Hamiltons and the Trasks, as they move into California's Salinas Valley during the late 19th century. Samuel Hamilton and his wife, Eliza, move to California from Ireland, establish their large family and establish their a well respected family, although they never acquire much in the way of monetary wealth.
Adam Trask and his wife, Cathy, come from a farm in Connecticut, but they bring with them secrets in the form of marital infidelity, questionably-earned wealth from Adam's family and seeds of envy and mistrust resulting from sibling rivalry and deeply rooted jealousies.
Evil begets evil, or so the saying goes, and out of sin comes greater sin, greater evil - even to the point of murder and betrayal.
The sins of the fathers continue through several generations, from the father of Adam and his half-brother, Charles, to some of the wives and down through the children and grandchildren of the families, just as in the Biblical story of Cain and Abel. Listeners will be caught up, as have millions of fans of the novel before them, in the lives of each succeeding generation of characters.
The eternal questions brought forth concerning original sin are posed as new characters emerge, in a setting -- the Salinas Valley -- that mirrors the Garden of Eden.
Steinbeck was born in 1902 in Salinas, California. He died in 1968 in New York City. Prior to his writing career, he attended Stanford University. He dropped out of college and worked as a manual laborer, having gone to school to please his parents rather than to follow his dreams of becoming a writer.
He concerned himself with the plights of the workers, which included immigrants and migrant workers, subject matter which attracted harsh criticism from those who depended upon cheap labor. Steinbeck's works often called attention to poor working conditions as well as to outright exploitation of the helpless.
"East of Eden is a mixed bag for me. Some moments had me reaching for the nearest pen so I could underline sentences fervently, while other times I'd be cringing at the occasionally silly metaphor. Maybe Steinbeck tried to do too much? Maybe I appreciate efficient writing more than the aesthetic? Maybe it isn't possible to pen a less heavy-handed reinterpretation of the story of Cain and Abel? I don't know. It feels somehow immune to criticism in all of its sentiment and mysticism (more so than most novels I read), but I can't say I loved every bit of it. I suppose that's just art."
Seth (4 out of 5 stars)