Tell My Horse

The third book in my “Winter Classics Challenge” was Tell My Horse – Voodoo and Life in Haiti and Jamaica, by Zora Neale Hurston. I picked this book up because I enjoyed reading, Their Eyes Were Watching God several years ago. Because that book was a novel, I (wrongly) assumed that this was as well. Rather, it is a travelogue delving into the world of superstition and voodoo. Ms. Hurston traveled to Jamaica and Haiti herself in order to write this book, which is detailed in three parts. The first part is about life in Jamaica, and talks a lot about the culture, and the superstitions revolving around the ‘duppy’, which is the spirit that is loosed from a person’s body after they die. The theory is that while a person is living, their brain and their heart can control the evil which inhabits us all, but when we die, the brain and the heart are no longer working, so the evil is free to move about in the world, causing trouble. There are many ceremonies that are enacted to keep the duppy in the grave, or at least out of your house.

The second part is about Haiti, and tells quite a bit about how it came to be as it is today, detailing the more recent (early 1900s, as this book was written in the 1930s) history of the country, and the politics involved.

The third part is a tale of Voodoo, and describes a lot of the beliefs behind the rituals and practice of Voodoo.

I’m sorry to say that this book did not keep my attention. I am really not that great at reading non fiction, and as interesting as this subject was, and well written, I kept looking for a story, for characters, for something with which I could identify. If you can’t tell by my review, I finished the first part, got a little bit into the second part, and finally, gave up. Sigh. Shame on me, not finishing a book for my challenge.

If any of you are interested in cultural anthropology, and have an attention span that is longer than mine when it comes to non fiction, I would recommend this book. I was disappointed in myself for giving it up, but not disappointed enough to make me stick with it.

11 thoughts on “Tell My Horse

  1. The premise of this book sounds interesting. I’m sorry you didn’t like it though. I had heard of the term “duppy” before, but I never knew what it was. Now I do!! ๐Ÿ™‚

  2. J, I struggle with non-fiction as well, especially memoirs, so I can totally relate to what you’re talking about. I’m reading a memoir right now, and while it has some very interesting information, my attention and interest is waning.

    Thanks for the review! ๐Ÿ™‚

  3. I get that same feeling that I have to finish a book once I start it, but have slowly over the years learned to give up when the book and I aren’t clicking.

    I don’t think that I’d be too taken with voodoo either. I’m a bit more concrete in my thinking.

  4. There is no shame in putting down a book, or not finishing a movie when it’s not working for you. Your time is too valuable. Maybe someday you will be totally into non-fiction and will get more out of this book then you did this time around. Or not.

  5. I hardly ever read non-fiction, either. I read to be entertained. I don’t usually read to enlighten or educate. I did read East of Eden because of your review and found it enjoyable.

  6. Non-fiction tends to be a non-starter for me as well. One of the only non-fiction books I have ever liked was by the NY Times food critic Ruth Reichl, who talked about how she went undercover to all these restaurants, and it almost read like a novel. I think it was “Garlic and Sapphires.”

  7. J, I give up on books all the time. If it does not catch my interest in the first 100 pages I walk away. There are always tons of other books to try.

  8. i wonder if there is /was any voodoo in the dominican republic since i’m heading there soon. thanks for the heads-up on this book… i may have picked it up since i liked “their eyes were watching god.”

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  10. Hurston was actually a trained anthropologist, she worked under Franz Boas and her colleauges were Ruth Benedict and Margaret Mead. Tell My Horse is an account or ethnography of the fieldwork she conducted in the 1930’s in Jamaica and Haiti.

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