Cover Image: Horse

Horse

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Member Reviews

Horse is an amazing feat, a page turning mystery about the origins of a piece of art that is also a deeply thoughtful look at the persistence racism that span eras. Like all Brooks work this book tackles big ideas through precise depictions and moving characters.
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Geraldine Brooks is an auto-read author for me; while I don't love all of her books, they're always compelling and moving reads.

This is a fictionalized history of Lexington, arguably the greatest racehorse and racing stud in American history. In her afterword, Brooks writes: "As I began to research Lexington's life, it became clear to me that this novel could not merely be about a racehorse; it would also need to be about race." Horse is just as much about the enslaved grooms, trainers, and jockeys "who were invisible but essential to the success of the racehorses that made white plantation owners wealthy." Delicate ground for a white author to tread, but Brooks does so sensitively.
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Not surprising for a Pulitzer Prize winning author, this book is a well written historical novel, with wonderful characters and an intriguing plot. Told from different perspectives over multiple timelines, it is primarily the story of a race horse but is also a story of relationships, and racial injustice from pre-civil war to the present. It was hard to put down. Highly recommended

Thanks to NetGalley and Viking Press for an advanced reader copy.
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Horse

Geraldine Brooks’ “Horse” is possibly the summer novel I’be been most looking forward to. Using multiple POVs from different time periods, she tells the story of Lexington, the most famous racehorse of his time and perhaps beyond. Add a painting found in a junk pile, modern museum scientists, and a tense antebellum south, and you have a novel you’ll want to ride full tilt to the finish line (sorry, I could not resist.)

“Horse” is not a book without flaws. Like so many novels that choose narrators from different time periods, the voices of the present are much less interesting than the stories coming from the past. Theo, a Pd.D candidate in art history is writing his thesis on the Black people  depicted in 19th century horse racing art. Jess heads an osteology lab at the Smithsonian. The dirty painting Theo digs out of the trash is of Lexington; the horse skeleton Jess recovers from the Smithsonian attic is Lexington’s. Useful to the plot because of what they know rather than who they are, Theo and Jess propose questions about whether his conformation was what gave Lexington his speed, or was it care and training by the Black man in the painting.

Once “Horse” moves to 1850 with Lexington’s birth, the story takes off. His trainer, a free man of color, and his son, Jarrett, who is enslaved, are at the bay colt’s first minutes of life. Jarrett will stay with him to the end of his life. Despite coming from notoriously bad-tempered parents, the colt then known as Darley, is curious and sweet. He is also lightning-fast and loves to run. Jarrett and Darley will go through name changes (Darley becomes Lexington and Jarrett becomes Warfield’s Jarrett and Ten Broeck’s Jarrett, depending on who owns him.) Brooks presents a rich portrait of the Southern horse racing world as well as what it’s like to be enslaved to that world, to be someone of almost universal respect who has no choices in his life. Jarrett is the best fleshed-out character, the most admirable and interesting. His owners teeter on that creepy line of being decent but not grasping his humanity or that of any other Black person. For example, his first owner gives Darley to Jarrett’s father in hopes the colt can earn enough for him to buy Jarrett’s freedom, only to jerk the horse away when his talent is recognized. Another owner hires a tutor for Jarrett (although it was not legal for Blacks to be literate) yet betrays him in an especially cruel way. Brooks’ writing is lush and affecting, and you will care deeply about Jarrett.

It’s hard to assign ratings to a novel like this. Jarrett’s story is five star for sure, but Theo and Jess? Three and a half, despite the interesting information they impart. Over all, characters are important for a while and then are never heard from again. There are flashes of melodrama. But what is pure and good is Jarrett, his intelligence, his thoughtfulness, his frustration and his connection to an animal he loves. I read “Horse” with total pleasure as will you, even though it’s not flawless. Recommended for readers interested in an unusual view of the antebellum south, the science of horse racing, and the connection between humans and horses. 

Deepest thanks to the publisher and Netgalley for early access to this title in exchange for an honest review.
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I was given an advance reader copy of this book in exchange for an honest opinion. Geraldine Brooks is a superb writer who has a knack for bringing characters to life. This was a thoroughly engaging read, one of the best books this year!
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The well crafted story that combined my teenage love of horses with my life-long love of history. Brooks' writing is enough to hold anyone's interest, but this story that incorporates culture of the old south, horses and art appeals to a variety of readers.
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A thoroughbred’s harrowing tale sparks a mystery at the Smithsonian in “Horse”
	

	Pulitzer prize winner, Geraldine Brooks, dashes out of the gate with a bittersweet antebellum tale of horse racing in her latest thrilling novel, “Horse” (Viking). A mystery unfolds as a Nigerian-American graduate student, Theo Northam, is struggling to find the topic for his PhD dissertation in Art History. Theo, a British boarding school graduate and former polo star, is stymied until he rescues a filthy, yet intriguing, painting from a neighbor’s garbage heap.
	Theo takes the painting to a friend at the Smithsonian to help him identify the artist and subject, and the story takes off like a contender in the Kentucky Derby. The painting features a horse with four white feet, and after meeting Jess, a scientist from Australia and Manager of the Osteology Prep Lab at the Smithsonian, the two embark on a journey to discover the history of the noble beast depicted in the painting. 
	Throughout the novel, Brooks interweaves the story of Jarret Lewis, an enslaved young man who becomes the horse’s lifetime companion and caretaker; the two creating a bond unbroken by Jarret’s slavery, greedy farm owners, betrayal, personal tragedy and the Civil War. The foal, which was born in Kentucky in 1850, became known as the Lexington in honor of its birthplace. Over the course of Lexington’s lifetime, Jarret, and an itinerant, unknown painter and racetrack journalist, Thomas J. Scott, stake their lives and liberty to protect the horse as he develops into one of the most famous thoroughbreds in racing history.
	When Jess discovers a dusty, abandoned skeleton simply entitled “Horse” in the Smithsonian’s attic, she and a British veterinarian begin a crusade to determine the identity of the skeleton. They believe that “Horse” is more than a skeleton in the attic. Could it possibly be the equine champion, Lexington, depicted in Theo’s painting?
	While investigating the painting’s provenance, Jess and Theo are drawn to each other, with both questioning the wisdom of entering into an interracial relationship. Their discoveries of additional stunning portrayals of Lexington with Black grooms and servants, draws them even closer together, and the art works spark Theo’s dissertation topic—The depiction of Blacks in 19th Century Paintings. However, the deeper Theo and Jess dig, the more they uncover the avarice and racism hidden beneath grandeur and pomp of the 19th Century racing; two maladies mirrored in their own contemporary world. Can the lovers overcome these obstacles to solve Lexington’s mystery and find happiness together?
	The third thread of the narrative follows an art gallery owner, Martha Jackson, as she rises to become one of the most respected Contemporary Art dealers in America during the 1950s. Through happenstance, Martha becomes obsessed with a portrait of a Lexington and her groom, which also claims an enigmatic provenance. Her personal history with the painting, and her bequest of it to the Smithsonian, contribute to the mystery shrouding the “Horse” skeleton found in the museum’s attic.
	For each of Brook’s characters — Jess, Theo, Thomas J. Scott, Martha Jackson, and Jarret—one passion rules their lives. For Jess it’s bones, for Theo its Art History, Thomas J. Scott loves to paint horses, Martha obsesses over the discovery of new artistic talent, and Jarret loves Lexington above anything else in the world. Through time, and across science and art, the characters become unified through their connection to a single animal, which enthralls them and makes them better humans for being captivated by his cause.
	“Horse” is more than a story about the legacy of a racehorse and the man who loved him. “Horse” is a sorrowful lesson about the poison of racism infecting the horse racing industry in the 19th Century, and the deep hatred brewing between the North and South before the Civil War. 
	Brooks examines how this poison continues to fester in our contemporary society, and she’s unapologetic about her portrayal of enslavement as the one of the most despicable institutions in U.S. history. Her characters remind the reader that during slavery, both humans and horses were viewed as possessions of the wealthy, with horses claiming greater value than men and women. 
	Brooks doesn’t preach in “Horse.” Through a truly powerful tale, she gently guides the reader through the subjects of hatred, white supremacy and inequality under the law, like a horse to a trough. Our past sins clearly impact our present lives, and the legacy of the thoroughbred Lexington, should remind the reader that the bitter remnants of the Civil War remain with us today.
	As an American-Australian writer, Brooks allows Theo and Jess, two outsiders, to speak frankly about the inequities they observe in our country. Brooks has stated: “As I began to research Lexington’s life, it became clear to me that this novel could not merely be about a racehorse; it would also be about race. Horse farms like Meadows and Woodburn prospered on the plundered work and extraordinary talent of Black grooms, trainers, and jockeys. Only recently has their central role in the wealth creation of the antebellum thoroughbred history begun to be researched and fully acknowledged.” 
	An avid horsewoman, Brooks usually writes novels about the biblical or mythological subjects. The breadth and accuracy of her research is always amazing, and she does not disappoint in “Horse.” In “Horse,” she outpaces her prior works, capturing the sights and sounds of the 19th Century South, 1950s New York, and contemporary Washington D.C. “Horse,” her latest thought-provoking and heartwarming entry, is proof that Geraldine Brooks deserves her place in the literary winner’s circle.
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HORSE by Geraldine Brooks came out today and it is the top candidate for my favorite book of the year. The Pulitzer Prize winning author has skillfully used the history of a famous racehorse to interweave the stories of nineteenth century enslaved people with modern day race relations. Sport, art, science, war, and mystery all play a part in this fascinating saga with portions set in the mid-1800s, in 1950s New York art world, and in Washington, D.C. in 2019. Early in the novel, Brooks introduces Jess who works at the Smithsonian and contemplates the vast storage area which "also held the things people had created – the finest examples of the artistry and the ingenuity of our own species. How could we be so creative and so destructive at the same time?" That theme repeats throughout the book; for example, in the tension between beauty and abuse of the thoroughbreds, and certainly, for her human characters, in the privileges conveyed by class and/or race.  In a time before photography, gentlemen often paid to have their horses painted and it is amazing how Brooks brings the stories of the owners, trainers, and groomsmen alive. In HORSE, she focuses on a slave named Jarret, a youngster in 1850 when the foal Darley, later known as Lexington, was born. Together, the two travel from Kentucky to New Orleans to New York and ultimately back to Kentucky winning races and astounding fans. HORSE received starred reviews from Booklist, Kirkus, and Library Journal and is a text which could easily be added to the curriculum, particularly for American Studies, or alternate with The Invention of Wings, another personal favorite. Book groups, too, will thoroughly enjoy discussing Brooks' latest - see link below for questions from the Reader's Guide provided by Penguin. Highly recommended; I wish I could give more than 5 stars.

https://www.penguinrandomhouse.com/books/535715/horse-by-geraldine-brooks/9780399562969/readers-guide/
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“Horse,” by Geraldine Brooks, Viking, 416 pages, June 14, 2022.

In 2019 in Washington, D.C., Theo Northam, a Nigerian-American art historian, is writing a magazine article when he stops to help an elderly neighbor take some of her late husband’s things to the trash. She tells him to take anything he wants. He sees a dingy canvas: a painting of a horse. 

Jess, a Smithsonian scientist from Australia, manages the vertebrate Osteology Prep Lab at the museum support center. She is asked to find the missing skeleton of a horse. Dr. Catherine Morgan has come from England to research The horse’s remains. Jess is embarrassed that the remains are just labeled horse as the stallion was the greatest racer of all time.

The narrative jumps back in time to 1850 in Kentucky. Jarrett, a slave, has a feel for horses. He is a groom. His father, Harry Lewis, is a trainer who bought his own freedom. Jarrett is owned by Dr.  Elisha Warfield. The bay colt is called Darley. When Darley is sold to a syndicate, he is renamed Lexington in honor of the village near Boston, Mass. Jarrett is sold with Darley. When the nation erupts in civil war, Thomas J. Scott, who painted Darley, joins the Union Army. 

Then in New York City, 1954. Martha Jackson, a gallery owner celebrated for taking risks on contemporary painters, becomes obsessed with the painting. 

The novel is based on a true story. While Lexington won six of the seven races he started, he is best known as the most dominant sire ever seen in North America. “Horse” is a story of race, power and money. The main drawback of the novel is the multiple threads. You no sooner get caught up in one when the story line shifts to another. It is meticulously researched, but it is slow moving.

Brooks was awarded the Pulitzer Prize in fiction in 2006 for her novel, “March,” which was about the absent father in Louisa May Alcott’s classic “Little Women.”

In accordance with FTC guidelines, the advance reader's edition of this book was provided by the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for a review.
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Geraldine Brooks writes books of importance, books whose memories stay with you for years, like cherished friends. Horse is told by characters that lived in the 1850s, the 1950s, and the present day, and with deft skill, Brooks weaves the stories together into a seamless narrative. The book an homage to our equine friends, and includes the history of horse racing and stud farms. It also addresses racism, from its pre-Civil War roots to its pervasiveness today. I'd give it 10 stars if I could.
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This book is one of the best I've read in a while. It is an incredibly moving, detailed, and well-researched story spanning over 150 years of American history. This very special horse, Lexington, connected so many of these characters throughout the years. This is the type of story that I know will stick with me. I laughed, I gasped, I cried. I hesitate to provide much description, as I worry I won't do it justice, bu I will try. 

Lexington is the greatest American race horse and stud sire in history. While the stories surrounding his life were largely invented for this book, the beautiful narratives imagined by Brooks felt as real as anything. We follow his groom-turned-trainer, an enslaved man named Jarrett. Jarrett's chapters were my favorite to visit, his pure and earnest love for the horse will capture your heart, but his unwavering resilience and courage will keep you captivated. 

We also follow Thomas J Scott, a painter of that time who painted many portraits of Lexington. 100 years later, we follow Martha Jackson, an art curator who had one of Scott's paintings that ended up in the Smithsonian. 65 years after that time, we follow Jess and Theo, who are brought together through their work for the Smithsonian. All of these characters are connected through Lexington's impressive life and legacy. 

Another legacy in this book the significant history with racism in America. The stories of Jarrett and Theo parallel in more ways than one, having to contend with both the awful treatment from the white people around them, as well as the well-intentioned ignorance of the while people around them. While much has changed in 150 years, not so much has as well. It's important to remember how much work there still needs to be done. 

Overall, I highly recommend this book, it's one of my favorites so far this year.
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The best books are the ones that take you places you’ve never been, and get you deeply invested in a subject you had known nothing about, all while being entertaining and engrossing. This book does all of that with horses and horse racing, something I know little about, and had never been especially drawn to. Of course, the book is about so much more than that, incorporating other themes and issues, most prominently race, class and racism. This is an excellent book that I enjoyed very much. Thank you to Netgalley and the publisher for providing this ARC in exchange for an honest review.
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This story, based on fact, is filled with devotion and hope as well as despair and racism. Written from 3 viewpoints during 2 time periods, the author brings together equestrian art from the mid 1800s and the science of preserving bones in the present. One thing that has changed very little in the last 150 years is the struggle of Black Americans to be truly equal and safe in daily life. It was easy to get involved with both the characters and the story, especially the wonderful horse, Lexington, and the beautiful countryside of Kentucky.

Thanks to NetGalley and Viking/Penguin Random House for the ARC to read and review.
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Geraldine Brooks has done it again, weaving together multiple strands of exhaustive yet not overstuffed historical research into a relevant and poignant novel. *Horse* is about the fastest racehorse in history, and about race relations in America. The novel's main strand focuses on the titular horse, Lexington, who not only was the fastest but also the greatest sire in history, producing more champion offspring than any other stallion. We come to know this horse and his world through the eyes of his enslaved trainer, Jarrett, during the years surrounding the Civil War. A second thread, set in modern time, weaves in threads of anatomy and art, but its core is anatomy in all its definitions -- the bones of the horse, yes, but also how different people learn different tactics to live in their own bodies, the inner workings of a relationship between a Black man and a white woman, the structures of social justice. The novel's third strand is that of an art gallery owner in 1950s New York. This strand binds the primary and secondary strands, with the binding ingredient being a series of paintings of Lexington by Thomas J. Scott. Throughout the novel, Brooks injects impeccably researched history, notes on equine culture, and sharp social commentary. This is how you do historical fiction. I highly recommend this novel to historical fiction buffs, to those interested in the history of Black horsemen, to those curious about equine culture, and of course to Geraldine Brooks fans.
[Thanks to PENGUIN GROUP Viking and NetGalley for an opportunity to read an advanced reader copy of this book.]
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Best book that I’ve read in forever!, Once again Brooks has a real winner - well researched, well written, and so very thoughtfully presented.  She weaves racing and racism into a great read that won’t be easily forgotten.
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In focusing on the fascinating story of Lexington, the once revered but long forgotten race horse, his few portraits, and his skeleton along with the relationship between a young art historian and a specialist in skeleton reconstruction,, Geraldine Brooks once again offers readers a spell-binding set of intertwined tales.  Although some of the themes - humanity’s cruel and inhumane treatment of some fellow humans, a country severely divided, the current American gun culture - are front and center, ultimately are  the stories are the heart of the book; they grab and hold the reader’s attention.  I could not put this book down, and I guess my only complaint is that Ms. Brooks has cost me a good night’s sleep!  Highly recommended.
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Truly fascinating novel about the early days of horse racing centering around the racehorse Lexington believed to be the faster horse ever. I loved it!
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The heart of this book is Lexington, a remarkable racehorse, and his trainer Jarrett, the son of a freed slave and is set in the mid-19th century American South, specifically Kentucky. Jarrett is with his horse, from the moment of his birth to his last breath, and through him we learn about the cultural history of horse racing, jockeys and betting, the imminently approaching civil war, and lawlessness.  There’s a secondary storyline of Jess and Theo who research Lexington’s history to his final days.  This thread also provides bookends for Blacks in America, then and now.  In spite of multiple storylines, I found the book interesting, engaging and I highly recommended it.
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An intriguing look at a particular horse from multiple angles and perspectives.  I like how the central horse is loosely based on one that actually existed and Brooks has clearly done an extensive amount of research to make each of the time periods come alive.  The story never quite clicked together for me, though, and it was sometimes a chore to read; I may have enjoyed this more several years ago when I was still faithfully following the Triple Crown.  I found Jarrett's point of view to be the most engaging and was very interested in reading the chapters devoted to him.  Brooks tries to incorporate some noteworthy racial issues with the present-day characters, but they aren't handled quite as gracefully as they should be to make the greatest impact.
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Make no mistake, I am not a horse person and I don’t care about horse racing either. However Geraldine Brooks made me care deeply about an enslaved young man named Jarrett and his devotion to an exceptional horse named Lexington. Brooks novel is deeply researched and Lexington is an actual racehorse who has sired many more exceptional racehorses. With three timelines, the novel gives us insight into the casual cruelty Jarrett encounters everyday in 1850s Kentucky and the fatal racism encountered in the present by Lexington’s researchers. An engrossing tale.
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