Books in Brief: "East of Eden" by John Steinbeck


THE TITLE: East of Eden (1952)

THE AUTHOR: Nobel Prize winner John Steinbeck, the author of American literary classics including Of Mice and Men and The Grapes of Wrath. East of Eden was an instant bestseller,  and has never gone out of print.

THE BRIEF: This 1952 novel has been called Steinbeck’s masterpiece by some, and his "most problematic" by others. It's rooted in both the writer's personal autobiography, and biblical history, in a story about three generations of two families. The book is set in Steinbeck's hometown, Salinas Valley, in California, and deals with themes of brutality, sexuality, family and the old battle between good and evil. Often labeled his most ambitious novel, Steinbeck claimed, “I think everything else I have written has been, in a sense, practice for this."

THE FIRST PAGE: “I remember that the Gabilan Mountains to the east of the valley were light gay mountains full of sun and loveliness and a kind of invitation, so that you wanted to climb into their warm foothills almost as you want to climb into the lap of a beloved mother.”


The Guardian: “This strange, sweeping novel remains Steinbeck's most considered meditation on national and personal identity, 'the story of my country and the story of me'.”

The New York Times: "Clumsy in structure and defaced by excessive melodramatics and much cheap sensationalism though it is, ‘East of Eden’ is a serious and on the whole successful effort to grapple with a major theme."

The Washington Post: “There will be many who may be affronted by its brutality or who will find Steinbeck’s philosophy of life too strong for them. But many of the classical works of fiction, from ‘Don Quixote’ to Fielding’s ‘Tom Jones,’ aren’t coherent or artistically graceful... But no one can doubt its merits as the work of a great storyteller. It compels and holds the reader’s fascinated attention from the first chapter to the last."