Saturday 27 April 2013

Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston

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.

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 is the master of turning a phrase that 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 one of the qualities I love about my husband. 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.)

"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 loved To Kill A Mockingbird, The Colour Purple, Mark Twain or Jane Austen you should get yourself a copy of this book right now!


  1. Anonymous28/4/13

    This is one of the books I plan to read one day.
    You are one of the many who enjoyed the book.

  2. What great quotes you included! I especially like the one you included about the title. Isn't it amazing what some writers can do with language? Thanks for the gushing review. I've read this book a couple of times, and you're right, the language works its magic differently each time.

  3. Not a book I've ever felt drawn to read probably because I think it will be 'too American'. Your review is changing my mind. :-)

    1. I know what you mean Cat. I tend to avoid what I call "Ra ra America" books and movies (aka as the God Bless America books and movies). This is not one of those. It's a story about a type of experience particular to America, but Janie's search for love, belonging and self determination is a universal theme we all can share.
      The final section with the storm was all the more poignant to read after seeing footage of Hurricane Katrina.

  4. Anonymous7/5/13

    I should certainly look out for this book then. Such an enthusiastic review. It now seems so dull to say I'm reading Oliver Twist (smile)

  5. Frankly speaking, I haven't heard about this book nor Zora Neale Hurston before I read CC's Sync-read post. Now, you intrigued me with your review, I loved To Kill A Mockingbird, The Color Purple and Mark Twain's, so I might like this one too. You have a nice edition, by the way... :)

  6. That is a lovely edition of the book. I'm interested in reading Zadie Smith's introduction, though I like the one in my old edition too.

    I think the more people who talk about this book, the more that will eventually read it and discover the amazing story of Janie and the brilliant writer who created her. I was so happy to have an excuse to read it again.

  7. I read this book many years ago and the details are a bit fuzzy but I remember being blown away by how wonderful it was. Your review is reminding me of why it was so wonderful and I may need to go dig out my copy. How did you like the sync read experience?

    1. I think this book is definitely worthy of a reread.
      The sync read wasn't as social as I thought it would be although it has been a lovely way to visit new blogs and get to know people like yourself who enjoy reading similar books :-)

  8. Brona, I love your urgency to other readers. That's how I felt, too: "I can't explain it! Just get a copy and read it yourself!!" : )

    Hurston is a superb expressionist. She can describe the physical and the emotional in dreamy, delicious words. I, too, enjoyed her folk speech. It was perfect.

    Thanks for sharing your review. I want to keep hearing what others thought about this book.

  9. Oh, I was going to ask: did you watch the movie, or will you? It was pretty good, considering the made some alterations.

    1. Until you mentioned it, I didn't know there was a movie.
      I will keep my eyes and ears peeled now :-)

    2. I put a link to the movie (on YouTube) at the end of my post.


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