The introduction to my volume of Zora Neale Hurston’s retelling of the Biblical Exodus calls this a “badly flawed novel” and I’m sure it is. Hurston is basing her novel on a Biblical tale that lacks strong women characters, and she’s trying to make it feel modern. The introduction also criticizes the stereotyped way in which Hurston tries to capture black speech. It’s not written in dialect, but it does capture idioms and mannerisms.
All that said, I really liked reading Moses, Man of the Mountain. I have a fascination with retellings of the Exodus.* Because of that interest, then, I liked Hurston’s novel simply because of the premise: tell the story of Moses and the Hebrews basing it on African-American folkloric practices (hoodoo and magic).
Hurston tells the story in an easy-to-read style, and I personally liked the idiomatic speech. The story has some different aspects to it that make it a little different from the Biblical version, of course, since Moses is a hoodoo expert, but I liked that too. I just liked it over all.
To give you an idea for the writing style of the novel, here is a favorite passage (the burning bush).
The voice came again.
“Moses, I want you to go down into Egypt.”
“Into Egypt? How come, Lord? Egypt is no place for me to go.”
“I said Egypt, Moses. I heard my people, the Hebrews, when they cried, when they kept on groaning to me to help. I want you to go down and tell that Pharaoh I say to let my people go.”
“He won’t pay me no attention, Lord. I know he won’t.”
“Go ahead, like I told you, Moses. I am tired of hearing the groaning in my ear. I mean to overcome Pharaoh this time. Go on down there and I”ll go with you.” …
The Voice was hushed. The bush no longer burned. In fact, it looked just like it had yesterday and the day before and the day before that. The mountain was just as usual with the wind yelling “Whoo-youuu” against its rocky knots. (page 127)
Maybe you can tell in this passage that it’s not the strongest writing ever. I wouldn’t call Hurston’s characterization spectacular either. Nevertheless, although the book may not be a masterpiece, I loved seeing how Hurston weaved it together simply because I love the subject and the setting. I’m willing to forgive any flaws simply because I like those aspects.
Is there any subject or time period that you love reading about, even if the book is not the best?
For the record, most of the Amazon reviewers also seem to enjoy it, rather than complaining that it’s “badly flawed.”
*Back when I thought I wanted to be a writer, I had a story idea related to the exodus. Instead of sitting down and writing that story, I read a lot about it as background. The story never was written. I guess I should say that by reading a book like Hurston’s, my passion to capture my own story dies. I could never create characters and a world so strong as this, and this is “badly flawed”!
[Really Old Classics Extra Credit: retelling of an old classic]