East of Eden
First sentence: The Salinas Valley is in Northern California
Reflections: East of Eden is an epic novel which tells the story of two interconnected families, and explores the themes of good and evil through a loose retelling of stories in the book of Genesis. It is set in Northern California in the early 1900s. Samuel Hamilton is an Irish immigrant who settled in the area and bore a large family; one of his daughters was Steinbeck's mother. Adam Trask grew up in Connecticut and, after the death of his father, moves west with his new wife Cathy. Cathy is the very embodiment of evil, yet Adam is blind to her manipulative ways. She bears twin sons, Caleb (Cal) and Aron, but leaves them as infants and goes to work in a brothel. Adam is left to raise the boys with the help of Lee, a Chinese housekeeper.
Throughout the novel, each character grapples with issues of good and evil. This is especially evident in Cal, who struggles to overcome the darker tendencies he inherited from his mother. The father-son relationships are sometimes strained and quite poignant. Steinbeck reveals the evil present in each person, while also showing the individual struggles and choices that can overcome evil.
This book was published in 1952, late in Steinbeck's career. Ten years later he was awarded the Nobel Prize, "for his realistic and imaginative writings, combining as they do sympathetic humour and keen social perception." While this book did not have as much impact on me as Grapes of Wrath, I found the story captivating and thought-provoking. ( )