Brother Mendel’s perfect horse by Frank Westerman
Dutch non fiction
Translator – Sam Garrett
Frank Westerman is Dutch writer and former Journalist ,he grew up in Assen in a dutch reform church family ,he then went to university eventually ending up as a journalist ,where in the early nineties he end up in former Yugoslavia ,this inspired his first book since then he has written six books most of which have won prizes and been on shortlist in native Holland .He is now a full time writer .
So to this book Brother Mendel’s perfect horse or its original ditch title translated is Animal ,animal above but English title links Mendel’s work on peas the early study of genetics that also influenced the Horse’s breeding .The book is a wonderful insight into the beautiful Lipizzaner horses ,I loved the way he’d first meet the horse on the edge of the town he lived was a horse a Lipizzaner but it turns out it he finds the horse whole blood line .For those of you not in the know Lippizzanner’s are large perfect white horse that due to there bloodstock are able to be trained to perform wonderful trick and precision riding,but also have in breed genetic problems .I was aware of the horse and knew roughly where they came from but had always wondered why it was called the Spanish riding school but was in Austria .I found this book answered any other questions I had ,but the horse are just a small part of the story here as Frank has managed to weave a tapestry of fact ,his own life and history .These beautiful horse have been the prize for a number of the most feared and hated men in twentieth century history with Stalin and Hitler both ordered people to get the horses at one time or another .Soon after Anschluss in world war two Hitler sent people to secure the Spanish riding school which is the home of the Lipizzaner ,Hitlers own idea closely matched the breeding of the original Lipizzaner ,he’d order breeding of perfect farm animal to match his perfect Aryans .The stories of this period leads Frank to meet a number of people or family members that were involved with the horse and made sure they were kept safe ,this also leads to other strands later on in the book as the horses move round the central area of europe Austria ,Yugoslavia ,Romania to name three .The later two are also touched on later in the book as the break up of Yugoslavia means the a group of the horses get caught up in the warring sides and become a pawn in the end of the war .So next time I see them on a news report or a travel show I ll remember how much they have been involved in the history of modern europe and are more than just pretty horses .
A door slid open and ,Illuminated in the resulting darkness was a white horse ,standing hesitantly as though posing for a picture .The animal stepped from the frame with a graceless gait ,led by a girl in riding boots with hair down to her buttocks .At twenty ,thirty paces from my hiding place they stopped .Face to face ,even lip to lip they stood there .like two youngsters kissing .
Frank describing his first meeting with a Lipizzaner .
This is a book that falls in with books like Hare with Amber eyes ,rings of Saturn and wildwood .The very best of narrative prose .He use the horse connection with men as a motif for the history of the twentieth century .I was also reminded of the booker shortlisted by Simon Mawer the glass room where the book had a house as a motif that had been closely touched with recent history .This is a book for that difficult to buy book person that you may have brought hare or snow goose for in other years ,also lover of great prose ,the horsey person ,the history lover .In fact if this isn’t near top of the pile this Christmas I ll be shocked because it deserves to be .I read on the Dutch wiki page this is currently in production to be a 90 min film about the horses .So this is my second choice for the dutch lit month and very pleased to review a non fiction books as not enough non fiction gets translated .The book comes out next month in the uk .
What narrative prose do you like ?