Horse ~by Geraldine BrooksHorse

Geraldine Brooks seems to be getting better with every book and she certainly is versatile I first read Year of Wonder which I received as a gift from my sister. For a long time I thought that was far and away Brooks’ best work.  Horse challenges that idea.

By Geraldine Brooks
2022 / 
Read by a cast 14h 6m
Rating – 8.5 / Historical fiction  

This one reminds me quite a lot of Great Circle by Maggie Shipstead  (my review here).   which was on the Booker Short List for last year (and I rated an 8.5).  Horse includes many stories of historical people intermingled with fiction.  (I applaud research and imagination, both; if I don’t know I go look it up if I find nothing it’s most likely fiction.)  

Brooks is Australian by birth but moved to the US where she married Tony Horwitz and has had dual citizenship for many years – Horwitz died suddenly last year. Brooks is one of only a handful of authors who were not yet US citizens when they won the Pulitzer Prize.  (Another one is Shirley Hazzard – also from Australia but lived in New York for man-years.  She also wrote historical fiction primarily about WWII.). 

I’ve read all of Brooks’ novels (in order as they were released over the years) as well as her two books of nonfiction.  Great Circle was my first by Shipstead. There are several comparisons between the historical fictions. For one they both use a present day plot strand alternating with another strand from long ago both leading up to today.   There’s something about a book with two plot threads which alternate between a distant past and today’s world slowly coming together. Several of Brooks’ novels do this.  

Brooks’ novels include the subjects of the potato famine in Ireland, the Louisa May Alcott’s  fictional March family during the US Civil War, how an ancient illustrated Jewish text survived since Medieval  times,  Native Americans attending Harvard College in Colonial times, the Old Testament story of King David and horse racing in the US antebellum South.  

There is nothing formulaic about these novels (for comparison, James Michener’s historical fiction is formulaic), but there are a few common themes in Brooks’ novels. Biblical stories and religion are used for three books; racism comes up strongly in at least 2.  Art is a major factor in several of the books.

The story takes place in Kentucky and New Orleans in the 1850s, and in New York a century later and again in 2019.  The Southern strand is about a boy named Jarret who is an enslaved black teenaged skilled horse trainer and groom. The horse of the title is Jarret’s (except for the fact that slaves can’t own anything of value) is an exceptional animal called Lexington.  The New York threads concern several different characters all interested in horses, racing, the art world, and more.  

Good book – go read it.

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