The first hundred pages will reel you in with its meditative, sun-drenched Californian imagery and the patient, reverent construction of two predestined houses. The last hundred pages will twist your heart so many times with its masterfully arranged denouement, your head will be spinning for hours trying to unwind itself and wrap itself again around the sheer scope, scale, and magnitude of what Steinbeck has accomplished in this novel. This is one-part biblical allegory, one-part sweeping epic, both so profoundly intimate while simultaneously rigorously grandiose and ambitious, I am wary if I will read another novel in my lifetime that will adequately compare.
Steinbeck’s magnum opus, regarded by the author himself as the crowning achievement of his career, and awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature, East of Eden is a sprawling, indescribably rich and poetic tale of man and his nature that spans generations against the backdrop of American history, reaching from the Civil War all the way to the waning days of the War to End All Wars. At once, Steinbeck draws his reader in with worldbuilding so detailed and honest, that the prose slips imperceptibly between things that are identifiably fiction and what could very well serve as a retelling of real family history. Large portions of this novel digress and meander and tumble through the relations and lives of many different characters, and yet, for all these threads, they never once snag or stifle the story’s pacing. In fact, they are a joy to read and discover. I found myself inadvertently flipping to the next page for an extra hour or more if I allowed myself to crack open the cover and read a single line at the end of a long night.
All the characters serve to inform each other, most chiefly our protagonists, the Trasks and the Hamiltons. But whom among them truly is our protagonist or even what the novel is ultimately trying to impart through their existence doesn’t crystallize fully until the very last page. It’s one of those journeys that you are certain you will navigate differently upon revisiting, and I cannot wait to walk the path the book lays out with the benefit of being able to pay closer attention to each passage, knowing the sum of each part instead of having to guess. I know I’m giving the vaguest of vague description of Steinbeck’s construction, but it’s difficult to put into words without disastrously spoiling large sections of plot.
Quite simply, you must experience this book. This book is everything Cloud Atlas wishes it could be. Who needs the Good Book when there’s this incredible retelling to impart upon you a thoughtful, solemn, and tender reflection on the nature of man, and all the moral failings and triumphs that come with it? I’m serious, this thing is so good. Timeless.
5/5 Timshel, read this book