Who wrote this book and when?
John Steinbeck published this in 1952.

Has there been a film version of it?
Yes, a 1955 version directed by Elia Kazan starring James Dean, and a made-for-tv version in 1981 starring Jane Seymour. Ron Howard is set to release another movie version he directed in 2007.

Who are the important characters?
Adam Trask – a wealthy man from Pennsylvania who moved to the Salinas Valley with his wife, Cathy
Samuel Hamilton – another farmer who immigrated with his no-nonsense wife Liza from Ireland, a dreamer who befriends Adam
Cathy “Kate” Trask – a woman incapable of love, married to Adam and mother to Cal and Aron
Cal Trask – one of the Trask twins, the less attractive and popular one, he desperately craves his father’s approval
Aron Trask – the other Trask twin, instantly likeable and affable, idolizes his mother
Lee- the Chinese cook and servant in the Trask house, one of Samuel and Adam’s best friends
Abra – the daughter of a Salinas businessman and a family friend of the Trasks

What’s it about?
This is the story of two families whose lives become intertwined – the Hamiltons and the Trasks. Both are farmers in the Salinas Valley of California, but their situations are drastically different.

Samuel Hamilton is an Irish immigrant who could be an amazing farmer if only he hadn’t gotten himself the worst piece of farmland in the entire valley. His children are plentiful and each one different. His wife, Liza, runs his home extremely efficiently. And Samuel becomes friends with all his neighbors – he tells stories, encourages morality in a gentle leadership sort of way, invents machinery to help them out on their own farms, and dreams every day of his life about something new. His family remains poor but happy.

Adam Trask is newly rich from an inheritance after his lying father dies. His brother, Charles, owns a large farm in Pennsylvania, but the two disagree so often that Adam is rarely on the farm property for more than a few months. One day, a woman crawls onto their porch, severely beaten and almost dead. Her name is Cathy and she is a former whore who burned her parents to death. Cathy has no conscience, only a cold hard desire for self-gratification. Adam nurses her back to health and falls in love with her. Despite his brother’s warnings, he marries Cathy and they move out to California and the Salinas Valley where he meets Samuel Hamilton and hires Lee, the Chinese help. Cathy is pregnant by now, and gives birth to twins. She rejects them and Adam and after shooting Adam in the shoulder, takes off. Adam seems to die; he even refuses to name his children. It is up to Samuel and Lee to wake Adam out of his stupor and get him to take responsibility for his new farm and his new sons.

Why is this book a classic/bestseller?
I think because it is such a real book – there is something that every person in the world could relate to somewhere in this story. Sibling rivalry, poverty, ambition gone wrong, ambition gone right, servitude, loneliness – all the aspects of what it is to be human are contained between the covers.

Do you recommend I read this book?
Yes.

Why did this book make your list?
It’s a book my mom recommended I read among other reasons. For the other reasons, read the “personal thoughts” section.

Has it won any awards?
It’s been selected for Oprah’s Book Club. Whoo hoo.

Favorite quotes:
I could probably quote this whole book to you – so I’ll just let you enjoy it for yourself.

Anything else?
The only thing I have to complain about with this book is I felt a little lost as to where it sat in history. However, this is probably mostly due to my own ignorance when it comes to history.

Personal thoughts:
My only prior experience with John Steinbeck was a high school encounter with “Of Mice and Men.” Granted, I have read the first chapter of “The Grapes of Wrath” multiple times, but could never get into it. Mr. Steinbeck was fast approaching my ick list, currently populated by Ernest Hemingway, Emily Dickenson, and Marcel Proust. But I was heartened when a former student of my mother’s approached her in Macy’s and told her how Mr. Steinbeck was forever redeemed after a grapes of wrath incident when the girl read “East of Eden.” It was now one of her favorite books. So I opted to give it a try.

And I’m so glad I did. This book was wonderful. Steinbeck claims this is the product of him just sitting down and writing a story about life, no matter how ugly it gets. And he manages to encompass almost every part of life. The pain and deceit and vulgarity, the beauty and wonder and courage. He displays love and hatred. He shows us men who aren’t afraid to dream or lie or injure those closest to them. And since the book draws so many parallels to the Biblical telling of Cain and Abel, you know the ending long before it comes…you just pray that you’re wrong. And you’re never quite sure who is supposed to represent whom. This story, just like that of Cain and Abel, is timeless and heartbreaking. And well worth at least a week of rainy days curled up on a couch with some tea.

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