by Geraldine Brooks
Kentucky, 1850. An enslaved groom named Jarret and a bay foal forge a bond of understanding that will carry the horse to record-setting victories across the South. When the nation erupts in civil war, an itinerant young artist who has made his name on paintings of the racehorse takes up arms for the Union. On a perilous night, he reunites with the stallion and his groom, very far from the glamor of any racetrack.
New York City, 1954. Martha Jackson, a gallery owner celebrated for taking risks on edgy contemporary painters, becomes obsessed with a nineteenth-century equestrian oil painting of mysterious provenance.
Washington, DC, 2019. Jess, a Smithsonian scientist from Australia, and Theo, a Nigerian-American art historian, find themselves unexpectedly connected through their shared interest in the horse–one studying the stallion’s bones for clues to his power and endurance, the other uncovering the lost history of the unsung Black horsemen who were critical to his racing success.
Based on the remarkable true story of the record-breaking thoroughbred Lexington, Horse is a novel of art and science, love and obsession, and our unfinished reckoning with racism.
What a read! Having long been a fan of Geraldine Brook’s books, I was excited to read her latest novel. I am not particularly a “horsey” fan so the simple title “Horse” didn’t initially thrill me. However, I found the story captivating.
Geraldine Brooks is a genius in her ability to tell stories. All her novels are so different yet each one is a compelling read. Some of her other titles include “People of the Book” (about a 15th century Hebrew manuscript’s survival to the present day); “Year of Wonders” (about the plague in the middle ages); “March” (about Captain March the father in the Little Women novel); “The Secret Cord” (about King David in Israel); “Caleb’s Crossing” (about the first Native American to graduate from Harvard University).
The historical fiction, “Horse” was woven together with current human rights and racism themes. Like most of Brook’s novels, the story bounced back and forth between historical and modern characters. Each character was well developed and I found myself engaged and drawn to read more than I planned at each sitting.
There were ample references to American horse-racing history for readers who are horse fans. However, there were also many insights into the deep south, slavery, and the civil war. The sections titled, “Afterword” and “Lexington’s Historical Connections” at the end of the book provided an exacting description of what was historical fact and what was fiction. It was a very fascinating yet educational read worthy of the Mark Twain quote “Fiction is obliged to stick to possibilities; truth isn’t”.