Jon from our Charing Cross Road branch has chosen East of Eden as one of his all-time-favourites and explains why it is the book for which John Steinbeck should be remembered.
As far as I'm concerned this is not only Steinbeck's greatest work (and that's quite a bunch to be the best of), but one of the great pieces of 20th-century narrative fiction. First published in 1952, Steinbeck himself reckoned it was the summation of all of the storytelling craft he'd come to hone in his (then) 50 years. He's not wrong.
This is a book of biblical ambition, the familiar California setting providing the perfect backdrop for the story of familial sin begetting generation after generation. For me it's not just the towering ambition of the storytelling, but the efficiency with which Steinbeck weaves it. Your senses come alive with the sights, sounds and smells of the Salinas Valley, as it goes from the American Civil War right up to the First World War.
You know that a book has immediacy when you become so emotionally involved that the very appearance of a character can drive you made with anger and pity; in Cathy Ames Steinbeck has created one of the greatest female characters in modern literature. There's so much more but not enough space to talk about it here. A towering work of art, if you're going through The Greats and you can only read one Steinbeck, make sure it's this one.