As the 2008 presidential elections approach, I have been rethinking and reevaluating my perspectives and values. With our nation in a critical period, it seems fitting that this week I read a quintessentially American story by a quintessentially American author.
Both a Pulitzer Prize- and Nobel Award-winning novelist, John Steinbeck is one of the most well-known and respected American authors of the 20th century. His distinct depiction of American life, especially pertaining to the diverse and unique Salinas Valley in California, remains poignant to readers of all ages and walks of life. After reading "The Grapes of Wrath" and "Of Mice and Men," I was eager to begin my next Steinbeck novel.
"East of Eden" is set in the Salinas Valley, Steinbeck's birthplace, and begins with the story of Adam Trask. Adam, while dealing with his abusive younger brother Charles, finds love in the Connecticut farmland, and settles with his new wife, Cathy, in the California countryside. Cathy soon becomes pregnant with twin boys, but shortly after their birth, she leaves Adam and begins working at a brothel in the city.
Adam's two sons, Caleb and Aaron, grow up blissfully unaware of their mother's situation, raised by Adam and a Cantonese cook, Lee. Caleb and Aaron, like Adam and Charles, and like the Biblical Cain and Abel, grow to be very different men: one bright and popular, the other dark and reclusive.
Steinbeck shines as an author and as an artist in "East of Eden." His plotline, while complicated, manages to remain clear and captivating. Steinbeck's writing style is impeccable, as he neatly weaves vivid descriptions with rushing dialogue and stunning character development, crafting a multidimensional story to which few novels can compare. "East of Eden" is far from the popular, action-packed movies of the modern age, but is instead a carefully developed story. The book never becomes slow, and its length is satisfying, not daunting. Simmering to its climax, "East of Eden" is successful in both creating intrigue and surprise and developing a relationship with the reader.
I give "East of Eden" a 10 out of 10. Steinbeck is a true master, and "East of Eden" is perhaps the finest example of his literary talent. This book certainly contains content not suitable for younger readers, and it may be more satisfying to those at a higher reading level. However, I recommend "East of Eden" for all readers at one point in their lives. It is one American novel that simply must be read.
Mari Miyachi is an Andover resident and student at Phillips Academy who writes reviews for young adults.