Wednesday, April 23, 2014

#73 - "Their Eyes Were Watching God" by Zora Neale Hurston

So far, through the first month, my re-dedication is going well, and I can now boast that #73, Their Eyes Were Watching God, is in the can. It was a relatively quick read that I was able to finish last weekend, but didn't have a chance to put my thoughts to paper until now.

This is yet another book I knew nothing about until starting this project over four years ago. But that shouldn't come as a surprise to anybody anymore; after a quick look at the 73 book I've read so far, I'd guess I knew next to nothing about 55 of them. So I suppose this latest one can get in line...

Their Eyes Were Watching God is the story of Janie Crawford, and African-American woman born into poverty in the late 19th century. The result of her mother's rape by a school teacher, Janie is raised by here grandmother, a former slave.

After three marriages, each reaching the same result in a different way, Janie returns to her hometown to tell her life story to her old friend Phoebe.

We learn of Janie's first marriage to Logan Killicks, a union arranged by Janie's grandmother. It's a marriage devoid of any emotion from either side, with Janie more closely resembling a housekeeper than wife. Longing for the love and commitment her marriage lacks, she runs off with Jody Starks after her grandmother passes away. Starks is a somewhat ambitious entrepreneur, who takes Janie with him to Eatonville, an all-black community near Orlando. Starks initially gives Janie the attention she craves, but eventually their marriage, like her first, turns out to be more of a business arrangement than an emotional bond.

As the years pass, Janie begins to realize that her husband doesn't really know anything about her, and doesn't know what kind of person she is. Instead of ever spending the time to connect with her, he's instead tried to mold her into what he expects of a wife. Following his death, Janie is free to be her own person, and with some money in the bank from the estate, she eventually meets Tea Cake, husband number three.

Tea Cake turns out to be what Janie had always been looking for; someone to love, and someone to return that same emotion and commitment. The couple moves to the Everglades to work the bean farms. Here Janie enjoys a modest, simple life, but one filled with love and happiness. But when a hurricane blows through the area, tragedy strikes, driving Janie to commit unthinkable acts, resulting in the end of her third marriage.

At first, I found this book to move a little slow. I didn't really develop any interest in Janie during her first marriage and it wasn't until well into her second marriage, when it began to fail, that I saw Janie for what she really was; a strong-willed, independent woman, trapped by a series of imperfect men (is there any other kind ladies!?).

As I was able to learn more about Janie, I was better able to understand her struggles. When she marries Tea Cake, someone with whom she seems genuinely content, it's hard not to share in her happiness. When the hurricane does strike, and threatens to destroy everything they've built together, it's impossible not to get wrapped up in the story. The last third of this book truly was a page turner.

I also very much enjoyed Zora Neale Hurston's writing, despite my difficulty getting through a lot of the dialect the characters speak in. I found her writing often gave me what I can only describe as a comfy-cozy feeling. I'm really not sure how else to put it. There was a certain familiarity in her writing, something that seemed to really pull me into the book the further into it I read.

Admittedly, I was surprised by how much I enjoyed this book, it's one I really wasn't expecting to get much out of. I think I had in the back of my mind that it was going to be another Beloved, which was a book a really didn't enjoy.

Yes, it would seem I was making that assumption because both books were written by female African-American authors, but really, until I'd read this book, 100% of the books I'd read by female African-American authors were like Beloved. With that now at 50% because of Their Eyes Were Watching God, I might not have any pre-conceived opinions should I ever decide to read The Color Purple.

For #74, I'm going to tackle Native Son by Richard Wright, who I'm assuming is some kind of distant relative of mine.

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