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Horse Heaven    by Jane Smiley order for
Horse Heaven
by Jane Smiley
Order:  USA  Can
Ballantine, 2001 (2000)
Hardcover, Softcover, Audio, CD, e-Book

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* *   Reviewed by Sally Selvadurai

Don't expect this to be a fast read; at over 550 pages it will take a while, especially given the complexity of characters, locations and descriptions of a slice of American culture, of which the majority of us are unaware. Thoroughbred racing is not a topic that I can say interested me, but Smiley's book has certainly been fascinating.

The author details aspects of racing form that were previously unknown to me, including the fact that all modern racers are somehow related, several times over, to one another. It's quite amazing that with all the inbreeding these horses are still able to run. Not only do we get an appreciation of the animals in this book, we are also drawn into the human relationships, both between one another and with the horses, as the individuals struggle to find their own identity.

One element of the novel that I found a little d9j0 vu was that aspect in which the horses themselves revealed their thoughts and feelings, a little along the lines of Anna Sewell's Black Beauty. Something else the stories have in common is that here also wonderful horses were being abused by their owners, both physically and by the use of banned substances to enhance their performance. I suppose this is often the fate of star athletes, be they human or animal, the only difference being that the animals have no choice in the matter.

By the end of this book I felt very well inducted into the milieu of thoroughbred racing. It conveyed the fascination some people have for the race track; how it can grow to consume both their waking and sleeping hours, holding them in the tight grip of addiction to a sport but at the same time offering true beauty and grace and a feeling of exuberance to watch a horse fulfill his or her capabilities, so carefully chosen at breeding. Horse Heaven is quite the epic and deserves a read.

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