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Their Eyes Were Watching God Paperback – Deckle Edge, May 30, 2006
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From the Back Cover
One of the most important works of twentieth-century American literature, Zora Neale Hurston's beloved 1937 classic, Their Eyes Were Watching God, is an enduring Southern love story sparkling with wit, beauty, and heartfelt wisdom. Told in the captivating voice of a woman who refuses to live in sorrow, bitterness, fear, or foolish romantic dreams, it is the story of fair-skinned, fiercely independent Janie Crawford, and her evolving selfhood through three marriages and a life marked by poverty, trials, and purpose. A true literary wonder, Hurston's masterwork remains as relevant and affecting today as when it was first published—perhaps the most widely read and highly regarded novel in the entire canon of African American literature.
About the Author
Zora Neale Hurston was a novelist, folklorist, and anthropologist. An author of four novels (Jonah’s Gourd Vine, 1934; Their Eyes Were Watching God, 1937; Moses, Man of the Mountain, 1939; and Seraph on the Suwanee, 1948); two books of folklore (Mules and Men, 1935, and Tell My Horse, 1938); an autobiography (Dust Tracks on a Road, 1942); and over fifty short stories, essays, and plays. She attended Howard University, Barnard College and Columbia University, and was a graduate of Barnard College in 1927. She was born on January 7, 1891, in Notasulga, Alabama, and grew up in Eatonville, Florida. She died in Fort Pierce, in 1960. In 1973, Alice Walker had a headstone placed at her gravesite with this epitaph: “Zora Neale Hurston: A Genius of the South.”
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Hurston opens up a space for us to envision life shortly after Emancipation - where African Americans were freed but not free. She illuminates an early Black community (true) and one of the strong women (fictional) in that community. The trials and tribulations of the many characters and the barriers they encountered - the moments of joy, happiness, and pain all grip the reader and help the reader to not only imagine but to feel what it might have felt like to live during this time in the community with the people. A masterful work.
The most special part of Zora Neale Hurston's writing is that she takes subjects that society wants to segment into "good" or "bad" and makes them human -- thereby making them complicated. Subjects like infidelity, domestic abuse, killing for self-protection, killing as an act of mercy, colorism, white savior complex, poverty, female pride, female submission, moral relativism... You name a tough topic, and Hurston handles it in this book with a deft touch rarely found in today's world.
NOW I understand why it's a classic & don't just have to take everyone else's word for it. Definitely worth a read or ten.
The man who finally enters Janie's life and steals her heart is not without flaws. But. He knows how to love her. Deeply, unconditionally, joyfully. There is no "happily ever after" for Tea Cake and Janie, but what he gives her in the brief time they are together is life: fully realized, fully lived.
A remarkable work of literary fiction by a skilled and soulful writer who knew stuff.
It feels - to my eyes - like an attempt to just tell a beautiful story about a black woman's life in America, unencumbered by the need to feature politics and promote the cause of liberation. A decision which, in its own right, feels truly radical for the time.
When I got to the last chapter, I wept. What greater endorsement does any book need?
Random practical note: the language used in the narration is truly beautiful, but the dialogue is vernacular and can be hard to read as a result. The first few chapters are told almost entirely in dialogue, but once you've made it past that point the ratio shifts significantly - so it may take some work to get that far, but it's very much worth it.
Top international reviews
This 1930s deeply human story of one indefatigable black woman's life, loves and catastrophes dazzled and delighted me from start to finish.
It was apparently written in a hurry and the story does have a breakneck feel to it. Characterful expressions burst from its pages; the syncopated, lively dialogue of the black people of the day is lush and gorgeous to read.
But please don't accept my effusive review as a recommendation. This book is not a generic crowd-pleaser and won't suit all tastes.
It is dialogue heavy and at times I felt I was reading a theatre script, rather than a novel.
I've seen that some readers weren't able to get to grips with the spoken vernacular, which surprises me no end. This white English/Irish guy had no problem whatsoever!
For me, the writing was irresistible. I do however think it wouldn't be for everyone.
In spite of her not knowing that she was black until she was 6 - she was shielded from this knowledge having been raised by a nanny who worked for white people - doesn't devastate her.
Zora presents Janie as a strong woman who has been married three times - one marriage was forced upon her by her nanny who thought it was a good idea to marry her off to an older man, as it would provide stability for her, the other marriage she walked away from as the husband was too domineering and her final love - her true love, gave her everything she desired. She could become part of every conversation, have friends, wear her hair down, dress how she felt to dress. She was liberated ... all through love.
The book is 80% dialogue which I loved and full of metaphorical language.
Even though this book was written so many years ago, I can see some parallelism in today's society.
A great read!
The main thing I found difficult about the book was that much of Janie’s story is rendered in vernacular. This does give it a fantastic sense of authenticity but, initially, I found it difficult to get to grips with and found myself having to re-read sentences to ensure I understood what was being said.
Janie is a young woman who instinctively wants more from life (although she doesn’t know quite what) and snatches the opportunities that arise although more often than not, sadly, they don’t work out. A recurring theme of the book is the silencing of women, in particular by men but more generally by society. When Janie finally meets someone who seems to want her to be herself and not be constrained, it ends in tragedy.
I did find it strange that at certain points in the book the author chooses to switch from Janie articulating her story directly to the third person. The Afterword included in my edition (an essay by Henry Louis Gates, Jr.) describes this as the author shifting ‘back and forth between her “literate” narrator’s voice and a highly idiomatic black voice found in wonderful passages of free indirect discourse’. In one section, the book even switches to the point of view of Janie’s second husband, Jody. And towards the end of the book, when Janie is on trial accused of a serious crime, the reader doesn’t get to hear her defence in her own words.
The author’s writing craft is demonstrated by some imaginative turns of phrase. For example, when Janie wakes up in time to see ‘the sun sending up spies ahead of him to mark out the road through the dark’ or, sitting on her porch one evening she watches the moon rise. ‘Soon its amber fluid was drenching the earth, and quenching the thirst of the day.’ And there is real drama created in the scenes set in the Everglades during which Janie, Tea Cake (her third husband) and others flee the flood water created by the passing hurricane. (It is during this section that the book’s title appears.)
Criticism: there’s a theme of domestic violence and it’s sometimes passed off as almost good and reasonable. I suspect it wouldn’t be nowadays, but the novel is a child of its time in that respect.
Possibly one of the classic works of the 20th Century and a major work of African American literature. I found this novel full of life and an enjoyable read.