Written in 1937, Hurston captures the lives of post-slavery, southern African Americans battling to overcome poverty and profound segregation. Janie, the story’s protagonist, is married three times by forty. The first two to black men insistent on domination. Janie is an article of clothing meant to be silent and shown off. Three times she runs off for a better man. The last, Tea Cake, is as poor as the Florida muck he occasionally works picking beans. But Tea Cake is a force of nature who insists that Janey also open herself to the elements of south Florida. Forsaking class and respect, she becomes a human being. The vernacular and characters Hurston chooses are so rich, complex, and authentic the story is still compelling literature seventy years later.
Lev Benioff, a 15-year-old Russian, Jewish kid and Kolya, a deserter from the Russian Army with an overactive libido and terrible constipation, find themselves trapped behind enemy lines during the Nazi siege of Leningrad. The two must find a dozen eggs for the commander of the Russian secret service within a week or face execution. The two will die if they don’t find the eggs for the NKVD or they will die if the Nazi SS captures them. Kolya is worried about getting laid, taking a crap, and writing the next great Russian novel as they trudge through the snow searching for chickens. Lev would be happy to just be kissed by a girl. The SS is all around them. The story starts slowly. It all feels too self-consciously assembled like a novel. By the time I was three-fourths through the book, however, I was flipping pages as fast as I could.
Still singed by Holocaust crematoria, Jewish rebels fight to throw off the yoke of British imperialism in Palestine. This is a book that launched a Jewish spirit of pride (and a movie that imprinted a generation) almost from the day it was published in 1960. Unfortunately, the book is terribly dated. The love story that threads the story is boring, the dialogue is preposterously square, and all the Arabs are stupid and dirty. The book’s one strength is the insight it provides into the internal struggles of Jews trying to carve a safe haven from a global community of nations that has perpetrated 2,000 years of desecration and persecution. Should Jews finally stand up and fight, really kill British citizens and soldiers? Is that the kind of progress upon which to build a new nation? It’s an interesting question and the history Uris provides of the Holocaust, the pogroms suffered by Eastern European Jewry, the outrageous actions perpetrated by British colonialists, and the hardships associated with creating a new homeland inside hostile territory are thorough and ring true. Alas, we know now that even in the period leading up to the birth of the state of Israel, issues of conflict between Jews and Arabs were more complicated than Uris would have you believe.