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5 Books like East of Eden: Familial Familiarity

Kedar Prasana itcherSo, you have just finished reading through this magnum opus by John Steinbeck and you want to read more into how families fare against disheartening odds of life. Well, these books like ‘East of Eden’ will certainly let you do that, and probably more: ‘The Sound and The Fury’, ‘The Mill on the Floss’, ‘The Brothers K’, ‘Buddenbrooks’, ‘Palace Walk’. ~ Kedar Prasana

What About the Family?

A man without words is a man without thought.

‘East of Eden’ is truly a larger than life book. Despite writing hugely popular and acclaimed books like ‘Grapes of Wrath’ and ‘Of Mice and Men’, John Steinbeck was never satisfied with what he had done. What resulted of this dissatisfaction was ‘East of Eden’, a work so magnanimous in thought, action and story that you just can’t put it down.
There have been very few writers who can write dialogue better than Steinbeck. ‘East of Eden’ certainly passes that test. It is a story of two disparate families, Hamilton and Trask, who inadvertently end up living as neighbours in Salinas Valley, California – a familiar setting for Steinbeck fans.
A book like ‘East of Eden’ doesn’t come far too often. If you have finished reading it and you are left with a hollow feeling, you will surely like to add the following books to your to‐read shelf.

Books Similar to ‘East of Eden’…

‘The Sound and The Fury’ (William Faulkner, 1929)

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Clocks slay time.

‘The Sound and The Fury’ is a ghastly book. It is all too real, but still far too surreal. The most peculiar thing about this book is that if you go past its first page, you will never end up hating it.

The storyline revolves around a highly dysfunctional Mississippi family and their house‐help staff. The book works its way through a host of unreliable narrators and time‐leaps, finally culminating into a chaos of emotions.

Make no mistake, it is a difficult read. But it will reward you for your patience, attention and perseverance. The rewards may come in the form of a shock, a feeling of disgust or even utter disbelief.

Similarity Match: 95%
‘East of Eden’ is a far more fluent read than ‘The Sound and The Fury’. But this really shouldn’t dictate your choice as the central idea to both of these iconic American books is that of a family.

‘The Mill on the Floss’ (George Eliot, 1860)

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I am not imposed upon by fine words; I can see what actions mean.

Mary Ann Evans, writing as ‘George Eliot’, set a benchmark for family‐ centric literature with ‘The Mill on the Floss’ in Victorian England. Many readers will point out that ‘Middlemarch’ can be a better choice here. But the fact that ‘The Mill on the Floss’ digs deeper into the workings of a family somehow justifies this selection.

The Tulliver family, living on the banks of the Floss, goes through ups and downs of seemingly quiet country life, only to end up in a heartbreak of massive proportions, just as Hamilton and Trask families in ‘East of Eden’ grapple with their misfortunes.

Similarity Match: 90%
Apart from the fact that these books are set in diametrically opposite temporal and geographical settings, it shouldn’t take much to see that they are primarily trying to solve familial equations, without much success.

‘The Brothers K’ (David James Duncan, 1992)

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I felt free to like all three of these men now, because I’d realized I didn’t have to become them.

Taking a cue from Dostoevsky’s ‘The Brothers Karamazov’, David James Duncan tried to probe into the lives of a North‐Western American family through diverse angles ranging from baseball to spirituality and career to politics.

This is also, by many miles, the ‘happiest’ book on this list, despite having its share of sombre moments. Not much in style of writing or character evolution, it is the very realistic dissection of family life that makes ‘The Brothers K’ a book like ‘East of Eden’.

Similarity Match: 85%
Set in a completely different time and place, ‘The Brothers K’ may be more relatable than ‘East of Eden’, especially to new readers. The emotional attachment between brothers is, quite clearly, the strongest link between these two books.


If You Like ‘East of Eden’, You Will Like…

Family is held important around the world, without exception. It doesn’t come as a surprise, then, that many authors try to delve into their past with works that revolve around families.

Here are two such worthy reads set in non‐English speaking countries.

‘Buddenbrooks’ (Thomas Mann, 1901)

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When life still hesitates to touch us, neither duty nor guilt dares lay a hand upon us.

Set in the late 19th century Berlin, ‘Buddenbrooks’ is a great portrayal of how families are shaped over generations. Thomas Mann, a colossal writer in his own regard, put his fluent poetic style aside while writing this book, and chose to be as objective as possible.

Eliciting themes from his own childhood, he made sure that ‘Buddenbrooks’ covered each and every aspect of the family life – from gatherings and weddings to funerals and lawsuits.

The Americanness of Steinbeck and the Germanness of Mann make these two books distinctly different. However, the tribulations of the Buddenbrook family in tough times are just as saddening as those of the Hamilton family in ‘East of Eden’.

‘Palace Walk’ (Naguib Mahfouz, 1956)

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Perhaps boredom was an irrelevant concept for a life as monotonous as hers.

Naguib Mahfouz, recipient of the Nobel Prize, is a well‐known name in the Arabic world. Published in 1956, ‘Palace Walk’ is the first instalment in the famed ‘Cairo Trilogy’.

The story, in itself, is about the way Egyptian families and households have worked for centuries. From minor sexual indiscretions to major political upheavals and wars, ‘Palace Walk’ takes us on a ride through the mind of the al‐Jawad family.

In a very authoritative way, Mahfouz paints the routines of his protagonist family in the style of Proust and Balzac. Apart from this poetic writing, the story, still, is about the death of a family, much similar to ‘East of Eden’.


Watching Each Other’s Back

The most striking feature of family sagas is that we can relate to them more easily than other genres. In that spirit, you can also check out the following books: ‘The Forsyte Saga’, ‘A Death in the Family’, ‘Saville’, ‘Sons and Lovers’.

If you have any relevant suggestions or comment, do feel free to let us know by posting them right below this article.

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