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Their Eyes Were Watching God: 10/26/13

cover art

Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston is a powerful piece of literature about a woman trying to find her place in the world. The book covers the life of Janie Crawford, from her childhood, raised by her former-slave grandmother, through two unhappy marriages, and a final tragic marriage.

Structurally it's one I would have struggled to read and probably not finished had I read it in print. It's an extended flashback, told in conversation between Janie, who has returned home in presumed disgrace, and her neighbor friend, Pheoby. The dialogue is written in a strong dialect — something that usually makes me go cross-eyed. As an audio, though, read by Ruby Dee, the layers of conversation and the strong dialect become theatrical.

Janie Crawford's first two marriages serve as the backdrop for her reason to leave a rather comfortable life as a widow and landowner in Eatonville, Florida. After two abusive marriages (one physical, one emotional) she meets a man with nothing except his charm and his willingness to treat Janie on her own terms. Although she is potentially putting everything at risk, she leaves town to work a farm near the Everglades.

And it's there among the farmers that she finds true happiness. Except, mother nature has other plans. The last chapters of the book read like a first hand account of the flooding of the Ninth Ward during Hurricane Katrina (except, of course for the setting). It's in this section that the book gets its title and what ultimately makes the book a tragedy.

Five stars

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