The Win­ter Horses

Phillip Kerr
  • From the Publisher
July 1, 2014

Fif­teen-year-old Kalin­ka is com­plete­ly alone on the vast Ukran­ian steppe, her fam­i­ly and friends just more unnamed vic­tims of the mad­ness of the relent­less Nazi killing machine. She final­ly finds refuge on a nature pre­serve, where she bonds instinc­tive­ly with some rare, wild Prze­wal­s­ki hors­es, pos­si­bly the last of their breed. The elder­ly Max is also alone, the sole care­tak­er at the very same nature pre­serve. He is com­plete­ly unaware of Kalinka’s exis­tence, and Kalin­ka prefers it that way. When Ger­man sol­diers arrive at the pre­serve, Max lives in an uneasy truce with them for a while, until the Reich decides that the endan­gered hors­es are a bio­log­i­cal­ly unfit species.” In order to pre­vent them from con­taminating” the blood­lines of supe­ri­or horse breeds, the Ger­mans car­ry out an exu­ber­ant hunt one morn­ing, shoot­ing the Prze­wal­skis in cold blood. One mare and one stal­lion man­age to escape the car­nage, and Kalin­ka finds them. It is then she makes her pres­ence known to Max, ask­ing for his help in tend­ing their wounds and then hid­ing them. Of course, she and her yel­low star are equal­ly in need of hid­ing from the Nazis, and Max will­ing­ly finds a way to pro­tect her. The Ger­mans, how­ev­er, are sus­pi­cious, and it’s clear that both girl and ani­mals must be imme­di­ate­ly on their way. The story’s sus­pense turns on the ques­tion of who will sur­vive: girl, man, hors­es. Kalin­ka seems younger than her fif­teen years (even giv­en the trau­ma she’s been through), and the sto­ry, despite its Holo­caust set­ting, might be bet­ter for slight­ly younger read­ers than the YA audi­ence it is adver­tised for. But it is an engross­ing sto­ry about an unfa­mil­iar Holo­caust chap­ter, one that pits the bru­tal­i­ty of war against the inex­tin­guish­able com­pas­sion of indi­vid­u­als. Well worth read­ing. Recom­mended for ages 10 – 15.

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