Horse by Geraldine Brooks: A review
Geraldine Brooks has written a fictionalized account of the life of a record-breaking thoroughbred named Lexington who lived in pre-Civil War Kentucky. It is an account of the horse's life and the life of the enslaved groom named Jarret who loved and cared for him.
Jarret was just a boy himself when he was first given the care of the new foal as his responsibility. The boy and the horse formed an unbreakable bond that saw Lexington through a long series of record-setting victories in races throughout the South.
In those years, a young itinerant artist was hired to paint Lexington's picture. Those paintings were quite successful and helped the young artist to make his name as a professional. When the war began, the artist took up arms for the North, and in that role, he would encounter the horse and his groom one more time.
A hundred years later, a gallery owner in New York became obsessed with an equestrian painting from the nineteenth century, a painting of unknown provenance by a then-forgotten artist. It is completely different from the paintings that she usually champions, the work of edgy contemporary artists. But the power of the work speaks to her and she seeks to learn everything she can about it.
Fast forward to the present day and a Nigerian-American art historian named Theo and a Smithsonian scientist from Australia named Jess become connected through their interest in the horse in the painting. That horse's bones are in the American treasure trove that is the Smithsonian and Jess is studying them for clues to the horse's power and endurance. Meanwhile, Theo is interested in the Black horsemen who were so instrumental in Lexington's success.
From the essential facts of the horse's life, Geraldine Brooks has woven a multi-layered tale that examines the social fabric of the time in which he lived and raced. She addresses the record of racism that was a part of that time and the consequences of which still plague the country today. I thought she did quite an incredible job of bringing together all the various elements of the story - the racism and slavery as well as the history of nineteenth-century horse racing and modern-day art and science. Her development of the main characters in all three time periods in which her story exists was interesting and I was fully invested in their stories.
I debated with myself as to what rating to assign the book. In the end, I couldn't quite bring myself to give it five stars but bestowed an enthusiastic four. I highly recommend the book to anyone who enjoys horse stories or anyone who just enjoys good writing.