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Tell My Horse: Voodoo and Life in Haiti and Jamaica Paperback – December 30, 2008

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About the Author

Zora Neale Hurston, the author of Their Eyes Were Watching God, was deemed "one of the greatest writers of our time" by Toni Morrison. With the publication of Lies and Other Tall Tales, The Skull Talks Back, and What's the Hurry, Fox? new generations will be introduced to Hurston's legacy. She was born in Notasulga, Alabama, in 1891, and died in 1960.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Harper Perennial Modern Classics (December 30, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0061695130
  • ISBN-13: 978-0061695131
  • Product Dimensions: 5.3 x 0.8 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (30 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #90,530 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Zora Neale Hurston was born on Jan. 7, 1891, in Notasulga, Alabama. Hurston moved with her family to Eatonville, Florida, when she was still a toddler. Her writings reveal no recollection of her Alabama beginnings. For Hurston, Eatonville was always home.
Growing up in Eatonville, in an eight-room house on five acres of land, Zora had a relatively happy childhood, despite frequent clashes with her preacher-father. Her mother, on the other hand, urged young Zora and her seven siblings to "jump at de sun."
Hurston's idyllic childhood came to an abrupt end, though, when her mother died in 1904. Zora was only 13 years old.
After Lucy Hurston's death, Zora's father remarried quickly and seemed to have little time or money for his children. Zora worked a series of menial jobs over the ensuing years, struggled to finish her schooling, and eventually joined a Gilbert & Sullivan traveling troupe as a maid to the lead singer. In 1917, she turned up in Baltimore; by then, she was 26 years old and still hadn't finished high school. Needing to present herself as a teenager to qualify for free public schooling, she lopped 10 years off her life--giving her age as 16 and the year of her birth as 1901. Once gone, those years were never restored: From that moment forward, Hurston would always present herself as at least 10 years younger than she actually was.
Zora also had a fiery intellect, and an infectious sense of humor. Zora used these talents--and dozens more--to elbow her way into the Harlem Renaissance of the 1920s, befriending such luminaries as poet Langston Hughes and popular singer/actress Ethel Waters.
By 1935, Hurston--who'd graduated from Barnard College in 1928--had published several short stories and articles, as well as a novel (Jonah's Gourd Vine) and a well-received collection of black Southern folklore (Mules and Men). But the late 1930s and early '40s marked the real zenith of her career. She published her masterwork, Their Eyes Were Watching God, in 1937; Tell My Horse, her study of Caribbean Voodoo practices, in 1938; and another masterful novel, Moses, Man of the Mountain, in 1939. When her autobiography, Dust Tracks on a Road, was published in 1942, Hurston finally received the well-earned acclaim that had long eluded her. That year, she was profiled in Who's Who in America, Current Biography and Twentieth Century Authors. She went on to publish another novel, Seraph on the Suwanee, in 1948.
Still, Hurston never received the financial rewards she deserved. So when she died on Jan. 28, 1960--at age 69, after suffering a stroke--her neighbors in Fort Pierce, Florida, had to take up a collection for her funeral. The collection didn't yield enough to pay for a headstone, however, so Hurston was buried in a grave that remained unmarked until 1973.
That summer, a young writer named Alice Walker traveled to Fort Pierce to place a marker on the grave of the author who had so inspired her own work.
Walker entered the snake-infested cemetery where Hurston's remains had been laid to rest. Wading through waist-high weeds, she soon stumbled upon a sunken rectangular patch of ground that she determined to be Hurston's grave. Walker chose a plain gray headstone. Borrowing from a Jean Toomer poem, she dressed the marker up with a fitting epitaph: "Zora Neale Hurston: A Genius of the South."

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

62 of 64 people found the following review helpful By Dr. Stephen Hicks on May 16, 2000
Format: Paperback
In the late 1930s, Zora Neale Hurston toured Jamaica and Haiti on a Guggenheim Fellowship collecting folklore and voodoo materials for this book, published in 1938. The book is in three sections, covering her views of and experiences in Jamaica, people and politics of Haiti, and finally her initiation and participation in the world of Haitian voodoo. Zora maintains her usual stance of the involved, inquisitive participant, and her initiation into the ways of voodoo was, and is, both remarkable and engaging. From sexism in Jamaica to threats about her voodoo investigations, from commentary on her role as ethnographer to criticism of previous white studies of voodoo, the book is wild, and collects a huge range of important black cultural practices. Zora left the field hurriedly in 1938, desperately ill, convinced she might die, and sure that she had been 'hexed' for delving too deep into the world of 'bad' (petro) voodoo...have a read of one of the most important pieces of black folklore research of the 1930s. Parlay cheval ou! Ah bo bo!
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22 of 22 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on November 19, 2002
Format: Paperback
Reading this book is like travelling along with Ms. Neale Hurston as she explores life in Haiti. You will meet fanscinating and intriguing people. The practices and beliefs are explained in just enough detail to make you feel like you were there, but all the mystery is retained as even the author is unable to explain or understand the depth of experience and strength of beliefs held by the native Haitians. Finding non-fiction that reads like a novel is a rare and wonderful treasure.
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23 of 25 people found the following review helpful By Guy Mead on October 7, 2000
Format: Paperback
If this book was fiction I would call it one of the most imaginative books I have ever read, but it's real. It is scary, unbelievably deep, and true. A wonderful anthropological gathering of stories, ceremonies , and everyday life. Let me wash my face with Jalapeno rum if I'm not telling the truth about this book being great. You can tell my horse.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By grasshopper4 on October 20, 2008
Format: Paperback
This book includes a small section on Jamaica but concentrates mainly on vodou practices in Haiti. I am impressed with Hurston's skill as a travel writer in the section on Jamaica. The images from the island are vivid and written in a lush style. She includes lots of descriptions of Jamaicans' folk culture; the sections on spiritual beings called "duppies" is especially rich. The major focus of the book, however, is on Haiti in general and vodou in particular. Hurston's style is even more impressive in this section. Some passages, such as her blending of mythic images with history, are characteristic of some of her finest writing. The content is equally spectacular, as she writes vibrantly about a range of spiritual beliefs, practices, and rituals. Some of the more fantastical elements, including a description of a corpse that sat upright in a funeral ritual and a photograph of a living zombie seem more like ethnographic fiction than valid social scientific work. As a result, some have dismissed this book as more of a travelogue or even a fictionalized ethnography. In recent years, however, scientific studies have supported Hurston's argument that there is a rationalistic, and perhaps even, a-rationalistic basis for what she observed and discussed. In this respect, her in-depth and sympathetic analysis of vodou is much more interesting and much more relevant to the study of religious experience and folk culture in the islands. It also interesting to think about how she was completing the fieldwork in Haiti while she was also writing other works, including "Their Eyes Were Watching God." That aspect of her life history really adds to an understanding of this book, and it adds to an understanding of her novel and numerous short stories.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Dakota Chacon on January 15, 2014
Format: Paperback
Sticking pins into dolls to cause someone pain and sacrificing goats for malicious ends are typically what the average American thinks of when he or she hears the word "voodoo" and New Orleans immediately comes to mind. Zora Neale Hurston's book Tell My Horse focuses on none of the above. Voodoo practitioners in Jamaica and Haiti are the focus of Hurston's field work and the things that they do may surprise others in how benevolent they are. This book dispels some of the inherent negativity that is born from the media-propelled ideas on what voodoo is.
Though some of the fear of voodoo's supposedly dark practices is banished by the domestic nature of the events and beliefs that are documented in Tell My Horse there are still many things that others may find frightening, just like with any culture. America seems to have an obsession with zombies these days. There are people across the nation who have built "zombie bunkers", have developed zombie escape strategies, and who are stockpiling edible goods and weapons in case of a zombie apocalypse. The news of men on the east coast who are ripping people's faces off and eating them certainly don't help the zombie paranoia, but the obsession is still relatively new here. It is not new, however, in Haiti. Flesh eating monstrosities may not necessarily be a fear to the Haitian people, but Hurston explains in her book that there is a genuine fear of being turned into a zombie after one dies. The dead that are reanimated, from the point of view of Haitian voodoo, are not free roaming killing machines. They are mindless workhorses that are often sent to toil in the fields.
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