When my copy arrived from Thrift Books yesterday and it was EXACTLY what I had been looking for, I burst into tears. I haven't completely stopped crying yet. It's so beautiful!
As I went through it later last night, I did find a few small pencil marks which I think I can safely remove. And as I went through it later last night, I also went through several more tissues. Yeah, it's that kind of story.
How much of the Godolphin Arabian's story as told by Marguerite Henry is true and how much is story, I don't know. At least part is true, of course, because he was a real horse and the history of his descendants is well known and documented. But all the stuff before that, from his birth in Morocco through his trials in Paris and London, who knows?
Like most little girls, I was fascinated by horses. When my grandparents moved from Edison Park, IL, to Roselle, where they had a couple of acres of land "out in the country," all I could think of was having a horse out there.
Of course, that never happened. Once in a while when we visited I'd see a horse that someone else in the neighborhood owned, but I never got one. The drive from our house to theirs, however, wound through the stable area of Arlington Park Racetrack, and when we went there during the summer I would literally hang my head out the window of our '53 Chevy to smell the horses. If by some chance I actually happened to see one, well, that was even more terrific.
Oddly, even though we lived barely a mile from the track, I don't think I went there more than a dozen times in fifteen years.
I never became a huge racing aficionado, filling my head with pedigrees and times of various horses who became famous in those growing-up years of the 1950s and '60s. A few stuck in my imagination, though, and none more than Round Table, the "little brown horse" who was so famous he warranted a visit from Queen Elizabeth.
Not long after I moved to Arizona, I struck up a friendship with a woman whose husband was very much a horse racing fan. I was at their home one day in the summer of 1987 when I happened to flip through one of his racing magazines and learned that Round Table had recently died, and I burst into tears. Yeah, the feels, for a horse I never knew.
Round Table was a turf horse, claimed to be the greatest ever, and for 40 years or so even had a race at Arlington named after him.
King of the Wind begins with Man O' War, who was descended from the Godolphin Arabian, as are most Thoroughbreds. I learned from Marguerite Henry's Album of Horses that there were three foundational sires of the breed: the Byerley Turk, the Darley Arabian, and the Godolphin Arabian. From other reading - I devoured books about horses, too - I knew that Man O' War's dam (mother) was Mahubah, described as "a Rock Sand mare."
Man O' War, like Secretariat, was a big red horse, not at all like Round Table. But the little brown horse was also descended from Rock Sand, and through him the line goes back to the Godolphin Arabian.
All. The. Feels.
And all this was in my mind even before the book arrived yesterday. As I read it last night, yes, there were details that I had forgotten, because after all it's been close to half a century since I last saw it. But one thing struck me more than anything else, and it had nothing to do with all the feels about Sham the horse and Agba the stableboy and Grimalkin the cat and Lady Roxana the mare and the other things I did remember. In fact, it wasn't even really a detail about the story itself.
Agba is a stableboy in the vast complex of the Sultan of Morocco (even though the horse is believed to have actually come from Yemen). Unable to speak, Agba nonetheless is devoted to the horses in his charge, especially a pregnant broodmare. It is the holy month of Ramadan, and the Sultan has decreed that the horses shall abstain from food from sunrise to sunset along with their human caretakers. Agba is able to ignore the temptations of food all around him, but he is very conscious of the strain this puts on the pregnant mare.
I don't know if Agba ever existed or not. Maybe there are notes in the life of the Earl of Godolphin, who acquired the stallion, that tell of the boy who could not speak. I don't know. But what I do know is that I learned two things from the fictional character: that Ramadan was a holy month of a respected religion and that a person with what most people think of as a handicap can still be a hero.
My maternal grandmother's family is Jewish, so even though I grew up in a nice, white, christian suburb, I knew about prejudice, and I knew about the Holocaust when few of my schoolmates did. I didn't know, at the age I got my copy of King of the Wind, about anti-Islam bigotry, though it wouldn't be much longer. But what Marguerite Henry did, even if she did it unintentionally, was to give this one reader a portrait of someone very different from myself yet who I could see as a kind of role model.
That's a pretty powerful thing. To this day, I tend to judge people on the basis of what they do, not on the basis of what they are.
When I worked at the public library and when I was a grocery store cashier, we had two customers no one wanted to wait on. At the library she was a quiet woman who almost never spoke, but came in frequently and checked out lots of books. One of my fellow librarians called her "creepy" because she was always staring at people. It didn't take me long to figure out this patron was severely hearing impaired. She stared because she was trying to read our lips. Most of the librarians turned away from her, making the experience even worse for her. I spoke directly to her, and we got along fine. I never did learn ASL, and she still spoke very little, but she smiled.
The same with the man at the grocery store. He tried to teach me to sign, but it's hard when there's a whole line of impatient people behind you. He learned to look for me when he came into the store so he would have a better experience checking out.
Had I learned that from Agba? From Marguerite Henry? Maybe. Maybe from Sham, the Sultan's horse who endured so much and never gave up.
King of the Wind is a beautiful book. I'm glad I posted here about my frustration with the first order that ended up being a flimsy paperback, and I'm doubly, triply glad that Chris found this copy at Thrift Books. It seems like $7 shouldn't be a strain on a budget, but at the moment it really is for me, but I'll do without something else along the way because this was definitely a book I needed.
The paperback will be donated somewhere, and I still have another copy on order from Better World. I'll probably donate that one, too. But this one, with its slightly tattered corner, is a keeper.
I really had no idea what to expect of this book when I picked it up. I ended up really, really, as in thoroughly and completely, enjoying it. Set in London, it revolves around Slough House, the place where spies go to languish after they've made a mess of something.
To rely upon this book, as well as Our Man in Havana, is to conclude that incompetence in British government is rewarded with exile, diminished responsibilities, and the same salary. True? Possibly.
In Slow Horses, however, things are not entirely as they seem. A book that is positively prescient on the rise of angry white nationalism - published in 2010, Mick Herron saw clearly the rising of the forces that would ultimately lead to Brexit - relies upon conspiracy within conspiracy that must be unraveled by the Slow Horses if they are to avoid being, yet again, blamed for events that are beyond their control.
Great first installment in an engaging series.
If you actually read my reviews regularly (hi mom), you may have noticed that I'm not writing reviews regularly. I've been finding it difficult lately. You see, more than five years ago I began working part-time so that I could focus on being a writer. At the time I had a nearly completed novel and dozens of stories that I intended to publish. Also, I thought I could use all my spare time to keep the house immaculate and also solve the world's problems. Five years later I can say I did a pretty good job at keeping up with the dishes and laundry. You see, having all the time in the world did not work for this writer. And so, I decided (very grudgingly) to go back to work full-time. I figured I couldn't be any less productive of a writer.
The thing is, I'm having a really tough time adjusting. I don't remember how I did it before. And so, I've been slacking on everything. While I continue to read—I do work at a library, after all—my reviews keep pilling up. Seeing all the books I have yet to write something about is almost too stressful.
Apparently, I read this novel, Out Stealing Horses, by Per Petterson sometime earlier this year. Of everything that stood out about the novel, here's what I remember: 1) the protagonist is an elderly gentleman looking back on his life in Norway; 2) the narrative is completely non-linear; 3) there are some gorgeous passages through this novel.
1) Trond is the nearly seventy -year-old man who is reflecting on his life. He takes his time getting around to all the details of his life (see 2), but does so with enthralling description (see 3). Some of Trond's reflections are quite tragic, and these are the stories that really make the plot interesting. Largely, Trond's narrative lacks much in the way of action.
2) I learned while reading Out Stealing Horses that Per Petterson is a writer who plans nothing. He begins a story without a plan and just writes. This is what we call writing by the seat of your pants. That explains why this narrative is all over the place, but it doesn't make it any less difficult to follow. Personally, I find the style makes for a less-than-pleasant read and that the final payoff on this particular novel was lacking.
3) Out Stealing Horses is a language-driven story. I realize that it has been translated from the Norwegian, so my judgment in regards to its mastery of language is based entirely on the English translation. The sentences in this novel are quite simple, as you'd expect from a character such as Trond, but that doesn't keep them from carrying a certain rhythm and depth that really stand out. Take, for example, this passage:
There was a smell of roasting meat and coffee in the air, and the smell of smoke, and timber and heather and sun-warmed stones and some special scent I had not noticed anywhere else than by this river, and I did not know what it was made of if not a combination of all that was there; a common denominator, a sum, and if I left and did not return I would never be able to experience it again.
For what it's worth, that's what I remember all this time later of Out Stealing Horses. This is far from a thorough or wonderfully written review, but I'm slacking. (If you think this is bad, you should see the state of the dishes in my kitchen right now.)
The book came up in a Twitter discussion a week or so ago, and it hit me hard that I didn't have my copy of the book I'd read more times than any other as a young reader.
My budget is horribly strained. I'm literally watching every penny, usually watching them fly out of my purse and bank account. And when I saw that copies were selling for $25 and more on Amazon, my heart ached. I wanted that book.
Fortunately, Judith Tarr recommended Abe Books as an alternative source, and there I found it for under $4. It's in transit now. I don't have it yet, but I will . . . . soon.
I had several of the Marguerite Henry books when I was a kid. Somehow I managed to hang onto my Album of Horses, but all the others vanished. Brighty of the Grand Canyon, Gaudenzia Pride of the Palio, and King of the Wind. I never owned Born to Trot, and the Misty series wasn't one of my favorites. The absolute favorite was King of the Wind.
Where did they go? The same place so many of my possessions went: my mother's garage sales. After I left home, almost everything I had owned went out with the junk. (Some things didn't; I know where they went and I can't talk about it.) The books were the worst of the losses; she knew how much I loved my books, but . . . she didn't care.
I got my love of books from my dad and his side of the family, not my mother's, and I think she resented that to a certain extent. He's been gone since 2008, and she's now fading. So I feel bad, I feel guilty for my own resentment, but it's there. I miss those favorite books.
As I've mentioned here in some previous, personal posts, I've tried over the years to replace some of those books. It's not an attempt to reclaim a lost childhood, but it is an attempt to reclaim lost comfort.
I don't have a support system here. I feel awkward even writing that much, and I won't go much further. But my books, my rocks, my online engagements, these are what I rely on. My kids have busy lives on either sides of the continent thousands of miles away. I'm not a social butterfly. I'm essentially estranged from all my family, who are in the Midwest.
Two weeks ago my already precarious budget got a gut punch with the forced purchase of a new water heater and water softener. I gathered my resources and figured out a way to manage. It wasn't easy, but it was doable. Today I got hit with a big fat auto repair bill. I've known it was coming, and I've tried to prepare both mentally and financially, but it was bigger than anticipated. Replacing the car is not an option, at least not now. BF says it's not worth pouring more money into this vehicle, but I really don't have any choice.
King of the Wind is about the little horse that could, but no one knew it. It's a feel good story, about overcoming seemingly impossible odds. For a young reader it was exciting and dramatic and suspenseful. For an adult facing real-life challenges -- some of them pretty darn scary -- it's a comfort read. It's gorgeous pictures. It's horses, horses, horses.
I'll let you know when it gets here.