Thursday, August 16, 2007

East of Eden | Summer Reading 4

As I previously mentioned in my original Summer Reading post, I am not much of a fiction reader. For some reason I've always preferred to "learn more" through non-fiction... books that are "about something." But when I think back to the fictional literature I have read, those are the books that have stuck with me, their characters and enduring themes timelessly engraved in my mind. The fraternity and forgiveness found in the pages of A Tale of Two Cities, the human vs. animal instinct in Lord of the Flies, the suffering and madness of The Crucible... these books can change you. I have begun to realize that you most certainly can learn things from literature, and, after all, I suppose the point of reading is not necessarily to learn something, but to also take from it pleasure and enjoyment. Reading East of Eden has begun in me what I hope will be a new-found love of classical literature. I think John Steinbeck is a genius and I will be reading much more from him in the future.

East of Eden is a grand morality play that follows two sets of brothers and two families before, during, and after the turn of the century. This novel captures the people, land, and spirit of 19th/20th Century America... "The Great American Novel," if you will. Its epic themes of good versus evil and love versus hatred are interwoven beautifully and intricately throughout the story.

I felt myself almost wanting to prolong my finishing of the book, wishing I could continue with the privilege of peering into the lives of the novel's characters. Among the most complicated was the naïve Adam Trask, always miserably struggling between the good his friends Samuel and Lee radiate and the evil he could not deny that emanated from his "wife" Cathy, repeating his own saga in the life of his twin sons Aron and Caleb. Cathy Ames/Kate, a cold-hearted whore turned madam, must be one of the most deplorable characters in the history of literature! Devoid of anything recognizably human, this evil broad kills her parents as a child, sleeps with her brother-in-law on her wedding night, shoots her husband and abandons her infant twin sons... and this is all before she does some really evil deeds.

The guilt and betrayal that haunt the young and discouraged Cal Trask as he tries to understand himself and life alongside his (seemingly perfect) twin brother Aron are at times more than the reader can bare on his behalf. Samuel Hamilton and the Trask's servant Lee are pillars of wisdom, goodness, and humility throughout the epoch, and the landscape of the Salinas Valley in California is a character in itself.

Throughout the novel each set of brothers (Adam and Charles | Aron and Cal) tries to win the love of their father by different means, and a story of why one brother is successful while the other feels unloved is revealed through a soaring mountain of symbolism, allegory, and metaphor. Ultimately, in its final dramatic moments of pain and redemption, it is a story about what we become verses what we may become.


melissa said...

has anyone ever told you you should write for the washington post? ;)

Liz said...

This is one of my all-time favorite books!! I'm so glad that you liked it so much. Steinbeck really is amazing. There are few who can tell a story as well as he can.

Jakob said...

Dang! I was gonna say something like that... East of Eden was a great book and I too began to feel sad on realizing I was beginning the final chapter. Great review!ajycw

Amy and Andrew Daigle said...

I really do believe that fiction has the capacity to teach us things that non-fiction cannot. Some of the most revolutionary, complex and/or comprehensive ideas need to be explored within the realm of fiction in order for us to find their place in reality. Glad you enjoyed East of Eden so much! Can't beat an epic novel.

Sheri said...

I found your blog!! Did you know that East of Eden is my favorite book? I knew you had good taste. :)