Tuesday, June 07, 2022

Geraldine Brooks' multi-period latest novel, Horse, intertwines horse racing and hidden Black history

With exceptional characterizations, Pulitzer winner Brooks (The Secret Chord, 2015) tells an emotionally impactful tale centering on the life and legacy of Lexington, a bay colt who became a racing champion in mid-19th-century America.

Present at the horse’s birth is Jarret, an enslaved groom on Dr. Elisha Warfield’s vast Kentucky farm, and the pair develop an enduring bond. Jarret’s nuanced conversations with traveling equestrian artist Thomas Scott about the horse are mutually enlightening. Through Jarret and his father, a free Black man and expert horse trainer, readers encounter a wide range of injustices experienced by people of their race.

This perennially relevant theme extends into the 21st century via Theo, a Nigerian American art PhD student. His path intersects with Jess, an Australian-born scientist at the Smithsonian, after Theo saves an old equestrian portrait discarded by his neighbor.

Among the most structurally complex of all Brooks’ acclaimed literary historical novels, the narrative adroitly interlaces multiple eras and perspectives, including that of 1950s New York gallery owner Martha Jackson, who appears midway through.

From rural Kentucky to multicultural New Orleans, renditions of setting 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.

Horse is published next Tuesday (June 14) in the US by Viking, an imprint of Penguin Random House. I submitted this starred review for Booklist, and it was published in the magazine's April 15th issue. 

For those interested in seeing what Lexington looked like, below is a portrait by American painter Edward Troye in 1860, when Lexington was in his tenth year:



This novel is strongly based in history, although the modern-day characters are fictional, and little has come down to us about the real Jarret (meaning Brooks had to invent much about his character). Read more about the novel's historical background in a Q&A at Geraldine Brooks' website.

2 comments:

  1. I am about half way through this, and speculated that you must have reviewed it -- or at least certainly knew about it. Ha!

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    1. By coincidence, I had - I was glad Booklist decided to send it to me!

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