Reviews of Horse by Geraldine Brooks

Horse

A Novel

by Geraldine Brooks

Horse by Geraldine Brooks X
Horse by Geraldine Brooks
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  • Published:
    Jun 2022, 416 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Jane McCormack
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Book Summary

Winner of the 2022 BookBrowse Fiction Award

A discarded painting in a junk pile, a skeleton in an attic, and the greatest racehorse in American history: from these strands, a Pulitzer Prize winner braids a sweeping story of spirit, obsession, and injustice across American history.

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.

THEO
Georgetown, Washington, DC
2019

The deceptively reductive forms of the artist's work belie the density of meaning forged by a bifurcated existence. These glyphs and ideograms signal to us from the crossroads: freedom and slavery, White and Black, rural and urban.

No. Nup. That wouldn't do. It reeked of PhD. This was meant to be read by normal people.

Theo pressed the delete key and watched the letters march backward to oblivion. All that was left was the blinking cursor, tapping like an impatient finger. He sighed and looked away from its importuning. Through the window above his desk, he noticed that the elderly woman who lived in the shabby row house directly across the street was dragging a bench press to the curb. As the metal legs screeched across the pavement, Clancy raised a startled head and jumped up, putting his front paws on the desk beside Theo's laptop. His immense ears, like radar dishes, twitched toward the noise. Together, Theo and the dog ...

Please be aware that this discussion guide will contain spoilers!
  1. On page 28 (Theo, Georgetown, Washington, DC, 2019), Theo reflects that depictions of horses are among the oldest art humans created. The book's epigraphs reflect on the significance of Lexington—in his day, an even bigger celebrity than Seabiscuit or Secretariat. Discuss the enduring human fascination with horses—do they move you more than other animals, and if so, why?
  2. Theo and Jess are both obsessed with their rarefied fields of expertise. Does the author manage to convey why these unusual careers can be so compelling? If so, how?
  3. Jarret's connection with horses is presented as stronger than his bonds with people. How does his love for and dedication to Lexington help or hamper his coming of age and his transformation ...
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    BookBrowse Awards
    2022

Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

Geraldine Brooks creates a powerful backstory for 19th-century thoroughbred racehorse Lexington, weaving a rich tapestry of historical and current-day narratives that aptly reflect how the legacy of slavery still ripples through America. The historic underpinnings of the work are as spellbinding as the characters. Whether Brooks is chronicling the history of thoroughbred racing, exploring the impact of the Civil War on African American jockeys, or detailing the nuances of American equestrian art, it is all equally engrossing...continued

Full Review Members Only (557 words)

(Reviewed by Jane McCormack).

Media Reviews

Boston Globe
A testament to the intelligence and humanity of animals, a stinging rebuke of racist and abusive humans, and a study of how the past gets recorded, remembered, and remade ... anyone who ever grew up loving horses, anyone who dearly loves an animal, will find a cornucopia of riches in this novel.

Garden & Gun
Brooks is such a sharp pleasure to read ... her research is meticulous, but she wears it lightly. And she writes supple, vigorous prose ... she sees a universal condition that transcends the boundary lines of time and place ... in short, she operates one of the best time machines around.

Good Housekeeping
This is historical fiction at its finest, connecting threads of the past with the present to illuminate that essentially human something ... Calling all horse girls: This is the story of the most important racehorse you've never heard of, but it's also so much more than that.

The New York Times Book Review
Brooks' chronological and cross-disciplinary leaps are thrilling ... [Horse] is really a book about the power and pain of words ... Lexington is ennobled by art and science, and roars back from obscurity to achieve the high status of metaphor.

Washington Post
[M]asterful storytelling...Horse is a reminder of the simple, primal power an author can summon by creating characters readers care about and telling a story about them — the same power that so terrifies the people so desperately trying to get Toni Morrison banned from their children's reading lists.

Booklist (starred review)
With exceptional characterizations, Pulitzer Prize–winner Brooks tells an emotionally impactful tale...[The] settings are pitch-perfect, and the story brings to life the important roles filled by Black horsemen in America's past. Brooks also showcases the magnificent beauty and competitive spirit of Lexington himself.

Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
[Brooks] demonstrates imaginative empathy...[and] skillfully [...] demonstrate[s] how the poison of racism lingers. Contemporary parallels are unmistakable...Strong storytelling in service of a stinging moral message.

Library Journal (starred review)
Brooks probes our understanding of history to reveal the power structures that create both the facts and the fiction...[She] has penned a clever and richly detailed novel about how we commodify, commemorate, and quantify winning in the United States, all through the lens of horse racing.

Publishers Weekly
[A] fascinating saga based on the true story of a famous 19th-century racehorse...While Brooks's multiple narratives and strong character development captivate, and she soars with the story of Jarret, a late plot twist in the D.C. thread dampens the ending a bit. Despite a bit of flagging in the home stretch, this wins by a nose.

Reader Reviews

Cathryn Conroy

A Masterpiece! Truly Imaginative, Multilayered Story That Is a Gripping, Can't-Put-It-Down Read
A book about a racehorse from the 1850s? Well, that doesn't interest me. But a book by Geraldine Brooks? That I cannot resist. She is one of my favorite authors, and this novel is yet again a reason why. Quite simply, this is a masterpiece. It's a...   Read More
sealibber

beautiful book
Not an equestrian personally but the beauty in which Brookes writes of horses and their keepers is fantastic and entrancing. She does not hesitate to go into the very uncomfortable past and present state of race and relations and the often inhumane ...   Read More
Marie Cassidy-Walker

Thoroughly recommended
"Smithsonian Museum Support Centre, Maryland 2019: Catherine stepped up to the exhibit label on the plinth and drew out her reading glasses. “Horse!” she read. “I can’t believe it! I don’t suppose you people have the Mona Lisa stashed somewhere, ...   Read More
Renee Claudette Shambeau

The best book I have read this year!
Author's command of English is excellent. The Art and Science and Character development and the Horse himself led to very satisfying reading. I have read many books on racism and slavery and the story Brooks tells is a whole new slant on history.

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Beyond the Book

Black Jockeys: The Foundation of American Horse Racing

Black and white photo of jockey Jimmy WinkfieldOn its face, the end of the Civil War should have marked a time in which African Americans would be afforded freedom. But the end of slavery did not mean the end of Black oppression. Many white Americans built their fortunes on, and were heavily entrenched in, slavery's infrastructure. These individuals, as well as others, bore great resentment for freed slaves, viewing them as a direct threat to their livelihoods. Rather than reveling in newfound freedom, many Black Americans faced hostility and bitterness, including those in the thoroughbred racing industry. Black jockeys and trainers who once found success in their fields now found a target on their backs.

As Geraldine Brooks notes in the Afterword of Horse, the "thriving" horse ...

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Read-Alikes

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