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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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Hurston, who did not often (if ever) say why she was there, was truly a part of the daily lives of the people with whom she stayed, and she withheld information about why she was there because she knew that if she told the people, she would see a performance of people’s lives, rather than actual lives, staged dances rather than real dances. Hurston also brings us a superb example of participant observation, and she makes no pretense that she can somehow get data that is completely uninformed by her presence. Neither does she accept stated perceptions at face value, but rather, challenges them when she feels it is appropriate. Consequently, her grasp of what is going in around her is much stronger.
One critique I do have is that Hurston makes sweeping, reductionist statements that betray her positionality (an educated black woman from the United States) in some aspects. I am not saying she wasn’t reflective, as there are many comments throughout the book that lead me to believe she was, but rather, that reflectiveness isn’t ever explicitly stated.
For those who enjoy political intrigue, reading about the death of Leconte (chapter 9) might prove quite enjoyable. Leconte isn’t the only memorable character in the book, even if, historically speaking, he may be the best known. Or perhaps that nod goes to Vilbrun Sam. In any case, there is also the buffoon president, his Voodoo priestess daughter, and her husband the goat. Oh, and zombies. The layout of Hurston’s book sets the reader up for the world in which voodoo is at work at that period of time in history, in all places, at all levels of society, leading up to the title chapter, “Go Tell My Horse,” which refers to the “mounting” (or possession) of a person by a loa.
Whether for enjoyment or assignment (although I do hope those aren’t mutually exclusive), Go Tell My Horse is an enjoyable, fascinating observation of Haiti in the first half of the 20th century, and I highly recommend you give it a read.