Lines & Literature | East of Eden

What I've been reading (off-line, that is):

I'm not normally one to read the ending  of a book first. But, you see, this was a special circumstance.

While traipsing about Europe, I had three novels packed in my bag. Zack had one. This one: East of Eden by John Steinbeck. It's a 601 page tome and certainly not the easiest volume for tucking into backpacks and carry-ons. While I sped through my slim books, leaving them behind in hostels, one by one, Husband chipped away at his Steinbeck. 

As we rode mountain trains through Switzerland and then the subway around Paris, he recounted the tale, giving me bits and pieces of the story. It is a story about two families, he said, set in the Salinas Valley in northern California. It is long and rambling and utterly lovely.  

When we reached Scotland, our adventure became a road trip. As Zack drove, maneuvering round-abouts and keeping to the left side of the road, I read his book aloud to him. Less than a hundred pages from the end, I began to read. In this way, I knew the ending before I knew the beginning. 

East of Eden is most often described as a "modern retelling of the Genesis story of Cain and Abel" but that reduction feels far too simplistic. Inserting himself into the narrative as both the narrator and as a minor character, Steinbeck writes about the Salinas Valley and about his mother’s family, the Hamiltons, with overwhelming tenderness and love. Yet in the second part of the narrative, the account of three generations of the (fictional) Trask family parallels the re-telling of the Biblical story of Cain and Abel. There is heavy struggle among sin, forgiveness, and free will. The Trask tale overshadows the history of the Hamiltons, but the result is both powerful and compelling. 

The copy we carted through Europe was borrowed, but I snagged a copy of our own at a used book store in Maine back in May. It's the same edition with the same lovely sketched cover, and I'm pretending its the same volume we read out load, driving through the highlands of Scotland, just the two of us.

Now that I've read the all 601 pages myself, beginning to end, East of Eden is settled on the shelf along with our other favorites.  Zack and I have also decided two things: that we must to visit Salinas, California, and that we must read more Steinbeck. Which of his novels should we choose next?


Popular Posts