East of Eden (Steinbeck Centennial Edition) - John Steinbeck This was my second time around reading “East of Eden” and this time, thanks to my friend Kim I had the opportunity to augment this experience with [b:Journal of a Novel: The East of Eden Letters|28910|Journal of a Novel The East of Eden Letters|John Steinbeck|http://d.gr-assets.com/books/1348124403s/28910.jpg|1316737] . Reading these two books together gave me a much better appreciation of the process that Steinbeck went through in realizing this story of his. From the book of letters, I learnt that Steinbeck knew what story he wanted to tell for a few years before he started writing “East of Eden,” the importance he gave to structure, pacing, method, counterpoint, and the agony of getting it all just right. This was the book that he had been working up to and he took his time making it come together.

“East of Eden” is a multi-generational family saga revolving around the Trasks and the Hamiltons, Steinbeck’s ancestors on his maternal side. It’s a book about family and love; what you do when you have it and when you don’t, what kind of person you turn out to be.

He knew these people on some level through stories and memories, and successfully brought them to life on the page. He had such a way of describing events, places and people, of layering and linking stories that I felt I was actually there alongside Samuel Hamilton as he invented, patented and tried to eke out a living on his barren farm with his family of ten. I was shut down and scared as I stared into the empty eyes of Charles Trask awaiting the next blow. When Adam’s father died, I felt his release, a kind of apathy. And there were many, many more instances. Too many to name.

And along the way, you never lose the connection to your surroundings and the context the characters find themselves in. The beauty in his description of the Salinas Valley was not just in the flowers I knew next to nothing about but also in the awesomeness of the history behind how this Valley came to be and the fearful consequences of drought.

But the most valuable aspect of this story is the insight that the characters have into their own lives and the circumstances around them. I felt a sense of being lifted by the words and character of Samuel Hamilton, of Lee. There was a magic in their endurance and grit, to get what meaning they could out of life. These men were not solitary, self-involved characters. They learnt and continued to grow, enriching those around them.

I know I will read this again and hopefully do more justice to the book next time. It’s a fantastic piece of work, the naming the twins and the old Chinese men discussing the Cain and Abel story and coming up with Thou Mayest were among my favourite parts in the book.