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  • Tracy Sherlock

History comes alive in story of horse racing, racism and us


By Geraldine Brooks

Penguin Random House

This is an impressive work of fiction that sweeps across history, covers important themes like racism and inequality and yet is a pure pleasure to read.

Horse is about so much more than just a horse. Yes, it is mostly the tale of Lexington, a thoroughbred horse who shattered racing records in the 1850s and sired more champions than any other horse of his times.

How many lives did that horse touch? So many, and author Geraldine Brooks brings them all to life — beautiful, complicated life — using both impeccable historical research and her own imagination.

The heart of the book is Jarrett, a young slave who is there when Lexington is born and who develops an unbreakable bond with the horse. In that timeline, between 1850 and the American Civil War, all of Jarrett’s various owners, his family, his competitors, his friends, an artist and many other characters all plot and scheme to survive.

The story includes two other timelines, one in the modern day that tells the tale of Lexington’s bones – yes, really! – and a historical painting thrown out in the trash. This storyline, also based in part on a true story and in part on the truth of our modern lives, reveals parallels between the past and the present. It kept me thinking for days.

There’s a third storyline, set in the 1950s and involving the American painter Jackson Pollock and a savvy art gallery owner.

Brooks won the 2006 Pulitzer Prize for her novel March, which tells the story of Little Women from the father’s perspective. She also wrote the bestselling and powerful novels Caleb’s Crossing, People of the Book, Year of Wonders and The Secret Chord. All are excellent historical novels, based deeply in research and true stories. Brooks was born in Australia, but now lives in the United States.

Horse may be a story about a horse, but it’s also a story about racism, both today and in the years leading up to and during the American Civil War, injustice and passion. It’s a human tale of both triumph and tragedy and it just might break your heart.

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