Book Review: “Dust Tracks on a Road” by Zora Neale Hurston

It’s finally Spring Break! Over the last couple weeks, it’s been hard not to think about where I was at during this time last year. We had just begun our abrupt transition to online learning. It was scary, confusing, overwhelming, and so stressful. I had a hard time sleeping at all over the break. This year, while the overall state of things is much better, there are still so many unknowns and changes that it makes it hard not to be anxious. However, I’m trying my best to take things one step at a time and enjoy my break because I deserve to rest and take care of myself!

I’m really looking forward to reading as much as I can over the next week! And I have to say, I’ve thoroughly been enjoying the increased amount of nonfiction I’ve read so far this year. I made a goal to read more since I don’t often choose to pick up nonfiction books, and I’m so grateful that I made this my goal for this year. I already feel like I’ve learned and grown so much.

My most recent nonfiction pick was “Dust Tracks on a Road,” which is the autobiography of Zora Neale Hurston. What an incredible and inspiring woman! This book left me feeling like I wanted to learn even more about her life, and also wanting to read more of her work (other than just “Their Eyes Were Watching God,” which is one of my all-time favorite books). I will say, I think I’ve discovered that I prefer memoirs to autobiographies, but this was still a wonderful read that I would highly recommend!

Spoiler-Free Review: “Dust Tracks on a Road” is the powerful and inspiring autobiography of Zora Neale Hurston. Hurston lived a difficult life, but always had a passion for storytelling and for education. As a child, she was constantly telling stories (or “lies” as her elders saw it), and throughout her whole life all she really wanted was to go to school and learn. It was so inspiring to see what she went through to achieve something many of us take for granted. Though at times the narrative meandered and occasionally seemed a little evasive in its tone, Hurston provides interesting (and at times controversial) commentary on topics such as religion, race, and poverty. Her willful, stubborn, and passionate personality shines through in this autobiography, and it was a joy getting to learn more about the life of this incredible author.

Below you will find a more thorough review containing my thoughts about the book. If you’re wanting to avoid any spoilers, you are welcome to jump to the TL;DR summary at the bottom of the page if you’d prefer!

“Dust Tracks on a Road” by Zora Neale Hurston
Dust Tracks on a Road - Audiobook, by Zora Neale Hurston | Chirp
  • Year of Publication: 1942
  • Genre: Autobiography
  • Summary:

First published in 1942 at the height of her popularity, Dust Tracks on a Road is Zora Neale Hurston’s candid, funny, bold and poignant autobiography, an imaginative and exuberant account of her rise from childhood poverty in the rural South to a prominent place among the leading artists and intellectuals of the Harlem Renaissance. As compelling as her acclaimed fiction, Hurston’s very personal literary self-portrait offers a revealing, often audacious glimpse into the life–public and private–of an extraordinary artist, anthropologist, chronicler, and champion of the black experience in America. Full of the wit and wisdom of a proud, spirited woman who started off low and climbed high, Dust Tracks on a Road is a rare treasure from one of literature’s most cherished voices.

Format: Audiobook (Narrated by Bahni Turpin)

Themes/Main Ideas: Education is everything. We’re all human. Think for yourself. Never give up on your dreams. Stand up for yourself.

Character Development: This is nonfiction, so there aren’t any characters. However, I will say that the people presented in this autobiography were, overall, described and developed pretty well! That being said, I thought this development was inconsistent at times. I felt that Hurston as a young girl was developed really well; she was spirited and a free thinker and we got to know her well. As the narrative progresses and reaches her adult life, it felt a little evasive at times. It was as if there were relationships and parts of herself that she didn’t want to fully share (which is, of course, totally her choice!). She’s certainly not obligated to share anything she doesn’t want to share, but I was hoping that an autobiography would give us a deeper insight than anyone other than her could provide. As far the other people described in this book, it was hit or miss how thoroughly they were developed. But I didn’t mind this!

Plot/Pacing: Hurston shares many moments and experiences from her life in this autobiography, and I really enjoyed them a lot! However, I did feel that the pacing was a little bit off at times. I felt that the portion of the book dedicated to her childhood was better-developed than the portion dedicated to her adulthood, and that much of the later chapters had meandering tangents contained within the narrative portions. I found her thoughts and ideologies fascinating, but sometimes the ramblings went on a little too long and I zoned out for a little while.

Writing Style: I really enjoyed the writing style! Obviously, Hurston is an incredible writer, so this is no surprise. The tone of the novel is so down-to-Earth, casual, and welcoming. Hurston’s voice shines through to the point that it feels like she’s talking/writing directly to you.

“Bingeability”: Low. It’s not anything that makes you want to rush through, and it’s long enough that this wouldn’t be a reasonable endeavor anyway. But this isn’t a bad thing! It’s a good one to take your time with.

Emotional Investment: Moderate. You really care more and more about Hurston as you read about her life, but more thorough development of the people presented in the story would have increased the emotional investment.

Windows and Mirrors: Racism. Religion. Poverty. Abuse. Anthropology. Being black in the early 20th century.

Overall Thoughts: I have many thoughts about this one! First and foremost, the performance of this audiobook by Bahni Turpin is incredible (as always). She really gives it her all. There are many hymns and other songs throughout the book, and Turpin really gives it her all as she performs them! It really brought the story to life. I likely wouldn’t have been nearly as engaged if it weren’t for her.

This book also made me realize that I tend to prefer memoirs over autobiographies. Memoirs are inherently more focused since they typically don’t cover an entire lifetime of material, and I think this helps me stay more engaged with the story. In this book, Hurston often derails into tangents. Her thoughts on various topics are very interesting, but it made it hard for me to stay engaged.

I also didn’t realize how much of this book was made up of the appendix. There is a significant amount of information provided at the end of the book, much of which is redundant as it was shared to some degree throughout the narrative. However, there were definitely some really helpful bits of information! I especially appreciated the timeline of Hurston’s life. It helped me put together the pieces of what I read in the narrative portion of the book.

Something else I found interesting was that she often seemed evasive or like she was avoiding writing about certain situations or people. It is, of course, completely up to her what she shares from her life! However, it just seems like if you’re going to take the time to chronicle your life, you might as well not hold back. I also noticed that this autobiography was written many years before she died, so it seemed like a significant portion of her life was missing. I suppose she wrote it at the height of her fame, popularity, and success rather than when she was finally settling down or retiring. I also learned that she died in relative obscurity and poverty, with no one knowing what had happened to her until Alice Walker found her grave and created a resurgence in her work’s popularity. It’s possible that, if she had waited, we may not have gotten this book at all!

Finally, I know I’ve mentioned her tangents several times, but they truly were polarizing for me. On the one hand, they were long and frequent which led to me becoming a little distracted. But on the other hand, it’s clear how radical her ideas must have been at the time and how brave she was to share them as candidly as she did. Some of them are even radical now! She had very strong feelings (and doubts) about religion. This was especially a problem considering how religious her upbringing was; her father was even a pastor (priest? I have to admit I’m not incredibly knowledgeable about religion). Even as a child, she was constantly questioning the information she was given. It was inspiring to see how she thought so critically and made sure her ideas were her own, even at such a young age! Her ideas about race and racism were perhaps the most interesting, though. What stood out to me the most was that she doesn’t believe in race pride, or even race awareness. She believes that one should not be loyal to one’s race, but to honorable people regardless of race. On that note, she also didn’t believe people should even be aware of race. We should judge people based on their character and their actions, and race shouldn’t factor into it. While I am certainly no expert on race or racism, I have been trying to learn as much as I can in an effort to be an anti-racist ally. I am hopeful that someday, Hurston will be right, and we will be able to all simply exist as humans. However, for the time being, I think we do need to be aware of race, because we can’t confront racism if we can’t even acknowledge each other and our lived experiences (which are impacted by race). She also mentions her insistence that we should just move on from the past and not dwell on it. Again, I think this is a nice sentiment that we’ll hopefully be able to achieve someday, but for now it’s absolutely imperative that we acknowledge the past so that we can ensure a better and more equitable future for all. That being said, I think that philosophy is what helped her break through her obstacles and accomplish as much as she did. If she spent too much time being upset about her past circumstances or mistreatment, she may not have been able to move forward as significantly as she did. So I can understand her sentiment to a certain extent!

Recommendation: Yes, I absolutely recommend this book. It’s a great depiction of one of the United States’ greatest writers, and it really inspired me to seek out other resources to learn more about her life and work!

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

TL;DR:
Year of Publication: 1942
Genre: Autobiography
Summary: First published in 1942 at the height of her popularity, Dust Tracks on a Road is Zora Neale Hurston’s candid, funny, bold and poignant autobiography, an imaginative and exuberant account of her rise from childhood poverty in the rural South to a prominent place among the leading artists and intellectuals of the Harlem Renaissance. As compelling as her acclaimed fiction, Hurston’s very personal literary self-portrait offers a revealing, often audacious glimpse into the life–public and private–of an extraordinary artist, anthropologist, chronicler, and champion of the black experience in America. Full of the wit and wisdom of a proud, spirited woman who started off low and climbed high, Dust Tracks on a Road is a rare treasure from one of literature’s most cherished voices.
Themes/Main Ideas: Education. Humanity. Never give up.
Character Development: None, it’s nonfiction. But Hurston (especially during childhood) was very well-developed! Other “characters” were a little inconsistent in their development.
Plot/Pacing:
Lots of great narrative moments, but many tangents throughout.
“Bingeability”:
Low.
Emotional Investment:
Moderate.
Windows and Mirrors:
Racism. Religion. Poverty. Abuse. Anthropology. Being black in the early 20th century.
Overall Thoughts:
Fantastic narration. Less focused than a memoir. Redundant appendix. Evasive at times. Interesting but controversial ideologies at times.
Recommendation: Yes
Rating:
4 out of 5 stars

Thank you for reading my review! Leave a comment letting me know if you’ve read this one or have any questions about it, and keep an eye out for my next review!

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