Mais leurs yeux dardaient sur Dieu by Zora Neale Hurston
A flamboyant novel of love and a literary masterpiece praised by Toni Morrison, Maya Angelou, Zadie Smith, Mais leurs yeux dardaient sur Dieu (And Their Eyes Were Watching God) is a landmark novel, a cornerstone in African-American and Women’s fiction. In other words, if you haven’t read it yet, find yourself a copy now!
Raised by her grandmother Nanny in the wake of the Civil War in Florida, Janie Crawford grew up in a garden cabin of a wealthy white family whose children were her playmates. So much so that Janie only realized her blackness the day someone took a picture of her and her friends.
If only one generation separates the two women, their aspirations couldn’t differ more. Nanny dreams of a husband that will provide for and protect her little girl, while Janie dreams of love. Her quest for a true, romantic, sensual, and respectful partner will prompt her to travel all around Florida and to have three marriages.
Throughout her journey, Janie observes the creation of African-American cities and a renewal of rural black life. And as Janie goes on with her life, she–as well as the reader–keeps wondering: is it possible to be a free, black woman and find the love that one desires?
As Zadie Smith wrote in her collection of essays Changing My Mind,
“the choices that one makes between partners () stretche beyond romance. It is in the end the choices between values, possibilities, futures, hopes, arguments (shared concepts that fit the word as you experience it), languages (shared words that fit the world as you believe it to be), and lives.”
Above all, Hurston’s writing is breathtaking. The fluidity of her sentences, the deceptive simplicity of her lyricism, the power of her metaphors, her way with aphorisms–all these combined explode on the page and sweep you off your feet:
“Ships at a distance have every man’s wish on board. For some, they come in with a tide. For others, they sail forever in the horizon, never out of sight, never landing until the watcher turns his eyes away in resignation, his dreams mocked to death by Time. That is the life of men. Now women forget all things they don’t want to remember, and remember everything they don’t want to forget. The dream is the truth. Then they act accordingly.”
The French translator Sika Fakambi did an incredible job at recreating the pace, the music, the deep singularity of Hurston’s prose. One can only feel eternally grateful that Fakambi didn’t settle for a “français fautif”.
“Some love too little, some too long,
Some sell, and others buy;
Some do the deed with many tears,
And some without a sigh:
For each (wo)man kills the thing (s)he loves,
Yet each (wo)man does not die.”
Mais leurs yeux dardaient sur Dieu, by Zora Neale Hurston, brilliantly translated from the English by Sika Fakambi (Zulma).
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