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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, the author of Their Eyes Were Watching God, was deemed "one of the greatest writers of our time" by Toni Morrison. With the publication of Lies and Other Tall Tales, The Skull Talks Back, and What's the Hurry, Fox? new generations will be introduced to Hurston's legacy. She was born in Notasulga, Alabama, in 1891, and died in 1960.
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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 story concerns Janie, a black woman raised by her former slave grandmother. Wanting her to be happy and not used, her grandmother arranges a marriage for Janie at a young age. But Janie rejects the marriage that brings her no happiness, and runs off to an all-black town in Florida. The characters she meets are very well drawn, and the emotion truly shines through.
Now one thing you have to know is that the story uses a lot of dialect writing rather than standard spelling. If this annoys you, you're probably not going to enjoy the book. And I have to say, the final events of the book rely on some truly terrible decision making. At the end though, this didn't ruin the book for me, and I can recommend it to readers of any age.
It is one of the greatest novels I have ever read: technically perfect, incredibly deep and poignant, never less than enthralling, never short of poetry. Hurston describes the racism and sexism faced by African American women accurately and, at times, graphically, but as a reader I never wanted to look away.
You don't have to care that this was a new kind of storytelling at the time. You don't have to be black. You don't have to be all about social justice. And you don't have to be feminist to enjoy this book. That's because, at its heart, there is a gorgeous love story, while all around it is a novel of learning to take care of oneself, to listen to one's own instincts, and to live an authentic life. This is one to re-read on the regular.
For many, this novel will be incomprehensible due to the extensive use of dialect and idiom. Read it anyway. Understand the richness of life that shines through the difficult life of all of the characters - Janie at 16, her grandmother who ran away from slavery under the threat of the overseer's whip; her second husband, who founded a town; to husband #3, the love of her life.
And while you are reading, remember the author graduated from Barnard, and was featured in a major news magazine of the 1950's, yet died penniless. Understand that the more things change, the more they stay the same.
This is one of my top ten books - ever. Ms. Hurston's writing is deep, lyrical, flowing, and so rich that I had to mark many sentences which normally I never do. It is the uplifting story of a young, sharp, independent girl, Janie, with few options as was typical of women in the first half of the 1900's and especially African-American women in the US. This story covers about 25 years of Janie's life until age forty as she chooses her path with self-confidence and honesty. The characters and setting are so developed and consistent that I could feel the heat and the humidity, the stress and the ambivalence.
I had the audio version which was beautifully read. Some others in my book club had trouble reading the vernacular speech. In contrast, hearing the book eliminated that task and allowed me to enjoy the language and story.
I have read many reviews about this story describing it as a quintessential paean to African-American women. I think it speaks, in addition, to all women.