The Winter Horses by Philip Kerr
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
More timely than the author and publisher could have known. I foresee some prize nominations. This book is magical and real, filled with love and death and hope. I was lucky to receive a review copy from the publisher, but I have just bought two copies to send as gifts. I wish I could see the author's note, for I am sure there is a personal connection for him somewhere.
At any rate: It's WWII. The Germans have invaded Russia. Young Kalinka is on the run after everyone in her village is killed by the Nazis. No one will take her in, for she is a Jew. Old Max lives in a cottage on a nature preserve (founded by a German). The horses, living history--the horses of the cave-paintings--take Kalinka under their wings, taking pity on her. Nazis come to the nature preserve.
War is a force that brings meaning to our lives--it reveals the worst and the best of the human character, and it's all on display here. Good and evil are everywhere, it's up to each of us to choose--and the natural world is caught up in the drama, too. Story is a wonderful vehicle for not only thinking about these things, but feeling our way to what our own reactions and answers will be as we grow into our futures. There are a couple of places where the dialogue seems stilted and unreal (fictional!), but the story is meant to be mysterious and compelling, and it is. The author never plays it false with feeling.
Keeping it on my personal shelves for re-reading. Highly recommended. For middle-schoolers, I would read as a class and discuss or make sure my advanced reader had somebody to talk to about it.
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