Push through the first chapter.
Anyone who has worked through Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights knows how rewarding sticking with a book can be. Zora Neale Hurston’s classic Their Eyes Were Watching God is nowhere near as difficult, but the eventually transparent phonetic spelling of the dialect along with the introduction of several female characters does make for a slow opening. Push through the first chapter.
We are quickly introduced to Janie and her life in the deep south. From the start we are told about Tea Cake, who is apparently the man Janie loves after two less-than-successful marriages. Hurston uses the familiar start-with-an-intriguing-end-then-tell-how-it-came-to-be formula, and–as usual–it works well.
The book reeks of female-empowerment, which can be off-putting at times, but upon completion, the reader discovers that that notion was ancillary to Hurston’s sure message.
I’ve always assumed that good books are considered good for a reason. (I say this to emphasize that I’m a half-full reader when it comes to highly recommended books.) For me, what separates a book from other artwork, is the work that’s required to intake it. Reading is interactive, to say the least, and unlike other art-forms, the power of a book rarely fades. Add to this perspective the notion that there really aren’t that many eternal truths, instead just a few that require a steady river of reminding, and it is clear why this novel resonates with readers of all backgrounds.
The setting, characters, and drama are all believable and compelling. Janie’s concluding wisdom conceals any would-be flaws. It is a lesson as old as time, but as refreshing as sweet tea just poured into a glass of crushed ice on a sweltering summer afternoon. Maybe you’re looking to read something new. If so, be sure to check out Hurston’s classic.
Hurston, Zora Neale. Their Eyes Were Watching God. New York: Perennial Classics, 1998.