East of Eden

I finished East of Eden last night. Whew, what a story. I can’t believe it took me almost a month (started on the 1st), but I guess that’s what makes it a Chunkster…that it takes awhile to read. What makes it a Classic, though, is not only the fact that it’s over 50 years old, but also that it’s famous, and accepted in literary circles as a great work.

In case you haven’t read East of Eden yet, I’m going to highly recommend that you take a month out of your schedule and do so. This is a wonderful book, full of hope and love, pain and death, sex and violence and betrayal. Everything that makes a good soap opera is here, including tragedy and drama.

I knew that this is a retelling of the Cain and Abel story from Genesis, and I knew that it was an epic story, set in the Salinas valley in Central California. What I didn’t realize, however, was how much sympathy I would have for the Cain figure in the story. In Genesis, I always felt like he got a raw deal, with God favoring Abel’s gift of a lamb over his gift of crops that he had grown. I mean, shepherding seems easier than farming to me, so why favor that one? The answer, according to a conversation held between three of the main characters in East of Eden, is because the folks that originally told that story were shepherds, so of course their God would favor shepherding. Makes sense to me.

Speaking of Genesis, there is one theme that they discuss within the book that is pretty profound, and that is held within the word, “timshel“. I don’t know Hebrew, so I’m not sure of the correct translation, but according to Lee, the highly intelligent Chinese servant in East of Eden, it means, “Thou Mayest”. The crux of the story is that in many translations of the Bible, God says, “Thou Shalt”. Yet, in Hebrew (again, according to the story), the correct translation should be “Thou Mayest”. Thou Mayest rule over sin. Or, perhaps, thou mayest not…the sins of the father are not necessarily the sins of the son, and we do not HAVE to do evil, just as we do not HAVE to do good, and we have control over our actions.

I’m not so sure that the character, Cal, would agree, however. He is tortured, like Scarlet O’Hara in another very long book, by his desire to do good, to be good, and his belief that deep down, he is bad. He does cruel, mean things, and then regrets them deeply. I never knew in Genesis, whether Cain regretted killing Abel. I’m sure he regretted being punished, but I wasn’t sure if he regretted the murder itself. East of Eden gave me a glimpse, through more modern eyes, of what Cain must have suffered after his fit of rage.

I’m going to stop now, because I fear I am going to ruin the story for those who might be interested. The first 100 pages kind of drag, as with many long books. Stick with it, because it’s definitely worth it.

20 thoughts on “East of Eden

  1. I want to read this book. I’m putting it on my list. I hope I can read it sometime this year πŸ˜‰

    Thanks for the great review!

  2. Love East of Eden! It’s the book that got me interested in reading back in high school. Perhaps I ought to re-read it because reading your review made me realize why I loved this book in the first place. πŸ™‚

  3. Good for you for completing this chunkster! Interesting about thou shalt vs. thou mayest. I’d like to hear a sermon about that, if indeed it is true. πŸ™‚

  4. Hmmm… sounds pretty good. I’ve heard of this book and walked by it couple of times in bookstores, but never knew the storyline. I can handle 100 pages of setup if the story is good. I like a strong tragedy. Makes my heart wrench, my head clear up (from overthinking), and see how good life is now. Thanks for a great review~!

  5. I can’t believe I’ve never read this book! Only Grapes of Wrath and of Mice and Men. It looks like I skipped over the good stuff! πŸ˜‰

  6. Never read it, but I do believe we have a copy around here somewhere. I am doing some reading J if you can believe that. I bought two parenting books to deal with my devil spawn. One is called Scream Free Parenting and the other (which I’ve actually started) is called I’m not mad, I just hate you..a book for mothers and daughters.

  7. I loved this book. I really liked all of the Chinese gentlemen spend so much time to learn Hebrew so that they could know the meaning of the one word, and what God was actually saying.

  8. I like your review. Very nice. You got the brain juice flowing for me. You know I think Thou mayest translation sounds right. I never believed there was a God who would demand that we do things. When I think of God, perfect comes to mind and bossy is not part of Perfect definition. I feel sorry for Caine. I don’t think we got the whole picture of the situation that occurred with his brother or his family. John Steinbeck was really a gifted writer, a little long winded but never the less his works are excellente.

  9. This sounds like a great chunkster and a great way for you to start your challenge. I also think we have this one somewhere around here, and will have to keep this on in mind when I’m looking for a long ditty. Thanks for the review.

  10. i’m SO glad this book struck you in a profound way as it did me. i can still remember where i was when i first read it, and the emotions it evoked. whew! great job, j. now… on to the next chunkster?

  11. No Melissa, next is a Dick Francis mystery…because it’s a library book, and I have to read it right away. Then, I have four classics to read in as many weeks, for the classics challenge. Wish me luck on that, because sometimes, they’re kind of slow. After that, maybe early March, is the next Chunkster. πŸ™‚

  12. Hey J, congrats on finishing your first chunkster! I’m just halfway through mine, but not enjoying it that much so I’m not sure I want to stick with it. Do you ever give up on books? I rarely do, but this time I’m sorely tempted. Isn’t it a great feeling when you read a book that has been recommended by just about everybody down the ages? You finally get what they’ve been raving about. I’d love to read “East of Eden”, perhaps I’ll give it a whirl once I’m done with all the challenges. Great review!

  13. Hey Lotus, bail on your Chunkster, and pick up East of Eden! πŸ™‚ I give up on books. So many books, so little time. Sometimes I come back to them years later, and I realize I just wasn’t in the right space for it before. Sometimes I don’t. One of my Chunksters is a book that I tried to read before and gave up on, actually. Cloud Atlas. We’ll have to see if I can get through it this time.

  14. I just bought this book…and can’t wait to read it! Thanks for the excellent review. I just finished the Winter Classics Challenge and it makes me want to read more classics πŸ™‚

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