Moses, Man of the Mountain by Zora Neale Hurston

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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]

Reviewed on February 5, 2010

About the author 

Rebecca Reid

Rebecca Reid is a homeschooling, stay-at-home mother seeking to make the journey of life-long learning fun by reading lots of good books. Rebecca Reads provides reviews of children's literature she has enjoyed with her children; nonfiction that enhances understanding of educational philosophies, history and more; and classical literature that Rebecca enjoys reading.

  • I think it’s pretty awful for that introduction to say she is using “stereotyped” black speech. The woman studied speech! She studied oral tradition and that was her expertise! I love what she does with the dialect in the two books I’ve read. I don’t know about this one. The quote you give doesn’t have the same sort of writing. But still I think that’s a rather ignorant comment for the person writing the introduction to make.
    .-= Amanda´s last post on blog ..Harry Potter #2, by JK Rowling =-.

  • Chris, I think whether or not this appeals to you depends on a lot! I certainly enjoyed it.

    Amanda, I think the intro is talking about THIS PARTICULAR BOOK because it doesn’t write in dialect as the others do but rather simply relies on idiomatic speech. It’s not the same as the other Hurston I experienced (the audio of Their Eyes). So maybe the intro writer was justified in saying that. As you say, the quote above, which is how the book is written, is not exactly in comparison to other Hurston novels. The intro writer was just saying it didn’t live up to expectations for Hurston.

  • Like the snobbish-sounding intro writer, I liked this novel less than other Hurston I’ve read, but I still enjoyed it. Even less-than-stellar Hurston, after all, is better than average. 🙂

    And my pet subject is quarantine, and the plague. Something about narratives involving those things are endlessly fascinating to me.
    .-= Emily´s last post on blog ..This and that =-.

  • I’m glad you liked it. Maybe I’ll read it now. I had picked it up once in a bookstore and read that line in the intro, and decided to pass on it. I’ll have to give it a shot now.

    My personal pet time period is Henry VIII and Elizabeth I. I will read even not-so-good books on that time.
    .-= Lindsey´s last post on blog ..Drood =-.

  • Emily, someone was telling me about a plague book the other day and I admit it didn’t interest me at all! Yes, Hurston is, I think, pretty good no matter what!

    Allison, I don’t know much about America during those years, but I’ve become quite interested in Victorian England!

    Suzanne, I think that would be a hard subject for me in bulk!

    Stefanie, I remember you mentioning the witchcraft thing on your blog. How interesting since I know nothing about the witchcraft trials in Europe!

    Heather J., Yes, give me this kind of a premise and I’ll enjoy it!

    Lindsey, I thought it a strange way to introduce the book! Even if it’s not Hurston’s best! I thought it clever.

    A BookShelf Monstrosity, I really want to reread Their Eyes now that everyone is talking about it. I need to read more Jazz Age books…

  • Only a genius like Zora Neale Hurston would think of such an idea. Making Moses as a black man. Very imaginative and powerful because of the black man’s history.

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