One of my favorite summer pastimes is reading by the water, especially when there’s a gentle breeze in the air. I especially enjoy historical fiction as the most effective pieces in this genre transport me to a different time and place while asking me to consider that era’s impact on contemporary issues. Horse by Geraldine Brooks is one such book. Unlike Brooks’ novels People of the Book and The Secret Chord, Horse is not a “Jewish” book; rather, as written on Brooks’ website, Horse is “the remarkable true story of the record-breaking 19th century thoroughbred, Lexington, who became America’s greatest stud sire.” However, Judaism teaches us to remember and learn from our past. This book encourages us to recognize and learn from some of America’s insidious historical patterns.
The story weaves back and forth from the pre-Civil War South to present-day Washington, D.C., from the life journey of Jarret, an enslaved Black man who loved, groomed, and trained Lexington, to the story of Theo, a Nigerian American, art history PhD student exploring the provenance of an oil painting of a racehorse he discovers in a neighbor’s discarded belongings. Along the way, the reader is confronted with several of America’s enduring problems, including, as mentioned on Brooks’ website, our “unfinished reckoning with race and injustice”. The novel highlights uncomfortable parallels between the treatment of horses in the antebellum horse racing industry and our modern one and between the disregard for Black human life in the era of enslavement and in our present day when Black men are the disproportionate victims of police brutality.
Please don’t allow the difficult subject matter to deter you from reading this book. It is a beautifully written and thoroughly engrossing saga that uses Brooks’ skillful development of character, time, and place to highlight the present-day legacy of slavery.