East of Eden cannot be described in a few short paragraphs. It is John Steinbeck in top form. It is described as a sweeping saga of two families - the Trask family in Connecticut and the Hamilton family in California. The book is the stories of brothers - Charles and Adam Trask, then Cal and Aron Trask in the next generation. It is the story of families and friends - Samuel Hamilton, his wife, his children Will, Olive, Tom and Dessie Hamilton, as well as Lee, friend and caretaker of Adam Trask and his sons.
The oldest stories are retold in East of Eden - good versus evil, brother versus brother. There is mental blindness, betrayal, and deceit. There is love - father to son, brother to sister, brother to brother (the main theme), man and woman, and friend to friend. It reminds us that the sins of the fathers can be carried through to the sins of the sons.
The characters are complex, rounded out. With one exception, no one is totally good or totally bad. Even the totally bad Kate has an unexpected layer. When the reader first meets Kate, she is described as a person with an emotional or mental defect. She doesn't have a soul, and manipulates everyone to get her way. Kate's effect on the older Trask brothers is passed down to the younger ones. Everyone who gets in her way is marred if they don't recognize her true self. Only three people recognize that Kate is not the person she portrays on the surface, but those three can't change the events she influences.
East of Eden is described as the classic Cain and Abel story replayed. The conflict of brothers is powerful in both generations. The Biblical story itself plays an important role in the novel. Yet East of Eden doesn't end the same as the original story in the Bible. Plus this novel takes the story further, showing the effects on the people around the brothers as well.
This is a masterful book, complex, and layered. The characters stay with you when you close the cover. After I finished it, I kept going back and re-reading different parts. The tone of the book is determined when Samuel, Lee, and Adam discuss the meaning of the wording of the original Cain and Abel story. That section needs re-read numerous times to get the full impact both of that scene and on the whole book.
East of Eden is considered one of John Steinbeck's greatest works. He puts himself in the book as one of Samuel Hamilton's grandsons. Although the Trask story starts in Connecticut, most of the background is in Salinas Valley, in Monterey County, California. The description of the countryside is true to the vagrancies of land in California - poor land only a few miles from rich, productive land.
This is a longer, deep novel. It is worth every page of reading. Prepare to meet real people that you will respect, disregard, like and dislike depending on the circumstances - just like the people we know every day.