BOOK REVIEW: Horse: A Novel by Geraldine Brooks
SynopsisKentucky, 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.
Wow what an absolutely amazing piece of historical fiction. I have read Geraldine Brooks book People of the Book but I haven't read anything else by her and I am so glad this caught my eye. What an amazing story of survival, racism, history and humanity.
Told in 3 different time periods, the 1800's, 2019 -2022 right before the pandemic, and the 1950's. The whole book centers around the greatest thoroughbred race horse Lexington. We learn about the amazing black men who worked as trainers and jockeys but were never given credit and then after the civil war were erased from history and many were driven to other countries if they wanted to continue to work with horses.
In the 2000's Lexington's skeleton is discovered by a young Aussie woman in an attic at the Smithsonian where they didn't realize what they had, and finally made the connection to the horse and the few paintings they had of him. In this narrative a young black man raised in boarding schools in England trying to brush off the racism he encounters discovers a painting of Lexington in his neighbors trash, and as an art historian he knows this painting is unique.
In the 1950's we learn about what happened to another of the paintings of Lexington and how it became part of a collection that was mostly modern art.
I laughed, I cried, I was outraged, I was heartbroken. Based on the true story of a record breaking horse this book is everything you want in a historical fiction. I was connected to the characters and invested in their outcomes, I learned a lot about horse racing and the history of it and it also reinforced what I already knew. Racism is still alive and well in the USA, and we still have a long way to go.
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