The Winter Horses

The Winter Horses

Book - 2014
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"Kalinka, a Ukrainian Jewish girl on the run from the Nazis, finds unlikely help from two rare Przewalski horses"--
Publisher: New York :, Alfred A. Knopf,, [2014].
Copyright Date: ©2014
ISBN: 9780385755436
Characteristics: 278 pages ;,22 cm.

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b
BookEMonster
Jan 10, 2018

After reading Kerr's Children of the Lamp series I decided I needed to read everything he has written. This was the next book on my list, and I wish I had read it sooner. As a life-long horse lover and fan of strong female heroines, this book hits every note. That the story is about a Jewish girl escaping the Nazis makes it even more powerful and, in light of what is happening in today's world, very timely and appropriate.
One of the things I loved about the Children of the Lamp is Kerr's unfailing compassion and ability to portray the enemy as a human. In Winter Horses the Nazis are truly evil, but Kerr doesn't eliminate the responsibility of the choices each one of them made. Complexity is not reduced, but refined by Kerr for simplicity of understanding- perhaps for young readers, or perhaps because it really is simple: evil is a choice.
One of the truly great lines in the book is uttered by Max, the elderly care taker of the nature preserve where the Przewalski horses live and Kalinka is hiding. When the SS Captain says he has no choice. "I'm just a captain, not a general. And I don't make policy decisions... I just execute them."
Max responds: "...it seems to me that we've always got a choice. I think that's what makes us a human. Any man who says he hasn't got a choice about something might as well admit that he's not much better than {a horse} here, with a bit in his mouth and a saddle on his back."
The SS Captain is so well characterized that the very things that make him so dangerous are so familiar. He is intelligent, accomplished, competitive, proud, arrogant, pampered, wealthy, and used to getting his way. But most importantly, as the above interaction illustrates, the Captain understands that in order for absolute authority to exist, so must absolute, unquestioning obedience. The captain relies on the obedience of his men, just as his superiors rely on his obedience. And throughout the story, the Captain shows us that these hierarchies of command are sustained by common goals, shared traits, and a belief in superiority through domination.
I initially retracted inside when the Captain was characterized in having a subjective painful emotional reaction to being violent. But had Kerr left that out, I would not have seen how narcissistic the Captain was. (He's actually a textbook abuser. The kind of man that must hurt others to feel superior. This type of man is remorseful only because his narcissism is wounded because he lost control, because someone "made" him lash out.)
In another example of choices and evil, Kalinka encounters cannibals. Not only do they eat humans, they kill them. These people are not just hungry and desperate, they have made a choice. They are reduced to nothing more than pieholes to fill. Kalinka has stolen bread and cheese, and Max had to choke down horsemeat with the SS, but these choices were made out of humanity, out of conscious decision. But the cannibal couple are another version of the SS Captain.
This book is very powerful, very well-written, an inspiring survival tale, entertaining and well-researched. This book resonates, and I think any young adult or adult that is drawn to it will love it.

b
BloomFree
Jan 04, 2015

Being a horse lover and fan of strong women (in this case a girl but 100% likely to grow to an even stronger woman) -- I really liked this story.

It was dark but a feel good story at the same time. Animal lovers will love the expressed animal-to-human communication and very real relationship between the animals and their owners - who are more close friends and family.

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