I have to confess that until 2 months ago I had never heard of Their Eyes Were Watching God or Zora Neale Hurston. But the love gushing forth on the Classics Club page plus other on-line forums had me intrigued. So I decided to join in the sync reading experience to see what all the fuss was about.
Firstly, I was fortunate to discover that I could get a gorgeous edition of the book thanks to the Virago Modern Classics designer collection.
Secondly, this edition came with a heartfelt introduction from Zadie Smith.
And, finally, the story just rolled through my heart, grabbed my attention and demanded to be read, enjoyed and savoured as quickly and as soulfully as possible.
Zadie mentions in the Introduction that she usually dislikes books that use “accurately rendered folk speech”. I don’t usually have a problem with this device, in fact, I have a lot of love for some books famous for it (i.e. Huck Finn and Tom Sawyer, The Colour Purple). Zadie also changed her mind whilst reading this book. Apparently, the dialect spoken by Janie and her friends is closer to a rural Southern one than an African-American dialect.
From the start, Janie’s voice is inside you. It has character, depth and personality. It’s like peeling an onion in reverse; Janie’s flesh and blood life is built up layer by layer through her voice. She grows on you from the inside out.
Hurston has a magnificent way of turning a phrase that completely stops you in your tracks. And I suspect each time you read this story, the various phrases will work their magic differently.
For me, this time around, I loved,
“Her hair is not what you might call straight. It’s negro hair, but it’s got a kind of white flavour. Like the piece of string out of a ham. It’s not ham at all, but it’s been around ham and got the flavour.” (I loved this because I could picture exactly what her hair looked like even as I had a hammy taste in my mouth!)
“He looked like the love thoughts of women.”
“He kin take most any lil thing and make summertime out of it when times is dull.” (This is also one of the qualities I love about Mr Books. I instantly felt kinship with Janie for loving and appreciating such a good man. Even though many of Tea Cake’s other qualities did not seem so lovable to me. But I will save my discussion of Tea Cake for the next time I read this book!)
“They seemed to be staring at the dark, but their eyes were watching God.” (the whole way through the book I was trying to work out the title. It was a lovely ah-ha moment.)
|Zora Neale Hurston by Berto Ortega|
I could gush so much more about this book, but I like to keep my reviews short and sweet.
Simply put – If you love powerful storytelling – if you love characters that become so real they feel like they will live with you for the rest of your life – if you loved To Kill A Mockingbird, The Colour Purple, or Mark Twain then you should get yourself a copy of this book right now!
Their Eyes Were Watching God is a keeper.