40 of 41 people found the following review helpful
A book with the great heart and soul of John Steinbeck inside,
This review is from: East of Eden (Steinbeck "Essentials") (Paperback)
East of Eden is an epic, powerful book of hope, despair, suffering and permission for humanity to fulfill it's potential. This may sound dramatic but East of Eden is one of the most thoughtful books I have ever read. The level of depth that is so subtly put into the book has a profound impact on the reader: the idiosyncraties of life, which we so often take for being individual to ourselves are really vividly shown to be universal. The book isn't so much a novel but a treatise on human nature and a philosophy for life. This is a big claim so I'll try and justify it. But really, this is a book that needs to be experienced rather than read so any review is only a shallow representation.
It takes a novelist of Steinbeck's skill to pull the deep philosophising off in a non-condensending or patronising manner. Yet, he handles the book beautifully, the philosophy comes from two very strong and intriging characters, Samuel and Lee, both outsiders beloved by those close to them who are able to advise the other characters and, by proxy, the reader too. Through these characters' strong voices, the other actors are guided through their lives, the stregth of hope that they give out is the difference between life and death for some characters. The ideas of the book are obvious when read but stay with the reader and offer a simple approach to a lives beset by complications - put simply, you may do what you want in life, you learn for yourself and although help and strength may be offered by other people, ultimately you are responsible for your own life. And for whether you are satisfied when death takes you.
The book is strong in many areas, such as the depth of knowledge gained about American history and the American psyche, the deep love shown to its people and the strong, interesting characters, shown extra love in their crafting because many are based on Steinbeck's own family. However the level of detail in the book slows down the narrative tremendously: this isn't a novel that can be rushed through without missing the crux of the book; the contemplative tone means that it will always be a slow read. The plot is also quite simplistic and easily predictable. It could be reduced to a few lines but in doing so the fine details and love that is so apparent in the book would be lost. The plot is secondary to the environment, characters and, above all, to the ideas of the book.
If this type of book sounds intriging to you, please buy or borrow it quickly, as it will be a book that you won't forget for a long time and offers the reader a lot. Despite the heaviness of the topics and some of the vindictiveness shown by some characters, the book leaves the reader in hope rather than despair by the end. Even if it doesn't sound appealing and the size of the book puts you off you should try this book. It is a rare masterpiece and one which will be as relevant in 100 years as it is now with much wisdom on offer to any reader, regardless of their world experiences.