Tuesday, February 27, 2024

Books I've read: Horse

I picked this up off the bookshelf at work a few months ago because I've read other books by Geraldine Brooks and enjoyed them.  I didn't read the blurb at the time, so I started reading it with very little idea what to expect.  And I was pleasantly surprised.

Set across multiple time-periods, the book is about a famous racehorse from the pre-Civil War era that was captured in several startlingly good portraits.  When a young art historian finds one of these portraits in a junk heap, he's intrigued by the appearance of Black men in the portrait, clearly caring for the valuable horse.  In a bid to find out more, he heads to the museum where he meets a scientist whose discovery of the horse's skeleton in storage has lead her on a journey of discovery.

That's the modern day story.

Intertwined with this story is the story of Jarrett, the Black groom and trainer, born into slavery, whose life was devoted to caring for this remarkable horse throughout his life.  And a third thread that follows an art dealer in the '50s who receives one of the paintings of the horse and tries to find it the perfect home even though she is more used to selling Jackson Pollocks than equine portraits.

I really enjoyed this book.  I had no idea that there were so many Black people involved in horse racing at the time or that they had such important roles.  That part of the story was probably the most interesting to me.  You hear so much about slaves who were treated badly, it was refreshing to read about slaves who were respected, given real responsibilities and encouraged to voice their opinions.

I'm also an art geek, so the story of the art dealer also tickled me.

So I'd definitely recommend this one.  It's a fascinating look at a part of history I knew nothing about, and was an enjoyable read at the same time.

But don't just listen to me.  Here's the blurb:

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.

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