Book Review by:
|[Image: 2] [Book: 3]|
I would hug Beauty around the neck and ride out on the farmland and local roads by our home. In the fall, I entered my horse in the local county fair, and during hunting season, I let my father take her deer hunting. Beauty was an excellent trail horse as well as being beautiful in the show ring. It has been nearly fifty years now since I hugged her around the neck and left her behind to go to college; though I missed our rides in the countryside terribly, I just couldn’t take her with me. I can only find her now if I look for her with my mind’s eye–and when I do, I can only hug her in the memories I’ve stored away in my heart.
|Diego’s horse was a sorrel-colored Arabian mare
that he called “SABBA.”
I mentioned, above, that long ago I wanted to be a veterinarian since I loved animals, and horses, in particular. It was this old desire that pulled me towards reading, The Horse Healer: A Novel, by Gonzalo Giner. As I began reading the novel, I was greatly and happily surprised by this book. I guess I’m getting a bit ahead of myself. So…before I tell you more, let’s take a quick look at the synopsis.
SHORT SYNOPSIS OF THE HORSE HEALER: A NOVEL:
|The Horse Healer: A Novel,
is based on fact, but fiction-
alized with new characters
and events added to the story
–this is the real Al-Nasir. 
Don Marcelo, the lord of an inn in Malagón, the city situated on a trade route between Toledo and Al-Andalus and on the shores of a “Great Lake,” had, but three years ago, lost his wife, the mother of the couple’s four children. The children and their father, Don Marcelo worked to keep the inn going, until poor health put Don Marcelo into bed.
The four children, Diego, Belinda, Blanca, and Estela, worked to keep the small inn running and to care for their invalid father; that is, until word came that the great Muslim leader, Muhammand Al-Nasir, had sent his fiercest warriors, the black-skinned Africans, born and raised to kill, to conquer the Christian territory.
|Close up of Al-Nasir’s
Imesebelen during the battle
of Navas de Tolosa. Note: See
the full image below. 
The, “Imesebelen,” meaning, the bridegrooms, sent to conquer and ruthlessly kill all Christians, were making their way towards the little family’s beloved city of Malagón. Everyone in the region began to flee in terror. Don Marcelo placed the burden for protecting his three girls on his son, Diego’s, shoulders; he told them to run…as an invalid, he had to stay. At the last moment Diego left the girls to go back for his father–who, in the end, he could not save. His decision to go back led to disastrous results–his sister Belinda was killed by an Imesebelen while trying to protect her two sisters; Blanca and Estela with their flame red hair, were taken into captivity to be sent to Al-Nasir’s harem.
|From an old text on the treatment of horses
by the albéitar (veterinarian). 
Narrowly escaping the Imesebelen, Diego fled on his horse Sabba, and headed to Toledo. Devastated, Diego wants to make his decision right, to go back to Muslim country for his sisters, but finds the ways barred to him. Eventually, Diego is taken in by an “albéitar (veterinarian),” by the name of Galib and soon is apprenticed to him. Diego has begun a new journey that is sad, yes, and traumatic, indeed. But what Diego doesn’t know, is that soon, very soon, he will be in for more excitement than he can imagine.
This story is more than a horse story, it is more than a slice of the reconquest of medieval Spain, it is even more than the story of a lost boy who must make his way in the world. Diego’s story encompasses a momentous time in history where an orphaned boy grows into a man who can help to shape the future and save a people. But what happens to this horse healer, his horse friend Sabba, and the boy’s sisters will shock you! Diego and Sabba’s journey into the pages of history during the momentous times of the “reconquest of medieval Spain” will leave you gasping!
MY FAVORITE QUOTE FROM THE HORSE HEALER: A NOVEL:
Well, I can’t really give you an exact quote from the book because the book, itself, is an Advance Reading Copy (ARC) from NetGalley. An ARC is the NOT final version of the book which may change dramatically, including page numbers and text before publication. Hence, no exact quotes can be given. Nonetheless, what I can do is tell you about a discussion between Galib and Diego (the albéitar [veterinarian] master is Galib and the apprentice is Diego). In this discussion Galib instructs Diego in the albéitar’s art. So…this is not a direct quote from the book.
From the opening pages I loved this book. I was immediately drawn into the lives of Diego and his family. Although it felt immediate to me, I was present in a way that compelled me to turn the pages, captivated by the lives of those simple and good people.
The multiple tragedies that came with the incursion of the Imese- belen warriors virtually had me by my shirt collar and wouldn’t let go. I had to know what happened after the murder of Belinda and Don Marcelo, and the capture of two of his children, Blanca and Es- tela. Reading about them taken to the Imesebelen encamp- ment, the kidnapping of those two girls and their treatment, left me breathless.
Of course, I was thankful that Diego had escaped, but, as a reader, I groaned when I saw the tragedies he had to bear. Experiencing with the journey to Toledo, along with Diego, had me biting my nails and turning the pages even faster. Oh, my gosh!
From the introduction and synopsis we know Diego eventually becomes appren- ticed to a the best albéitar [veterin- arian] in the whole of the area –master Galib. We also sense in Diego a great love for horses, and in particular, his “Sabba.” My point, here, is that I had to tell you how much I loved that Gonzalo Giner pulled us into the story of this family.
RELIGION, INTOLERANCE, AND THE ALMOHADS.
|Emir of the Almohad Dyn-
asty Yakub al Mansour, with
his bodyguard. Yakub al
Mansour reigned from
I also like Giner’s choice to have the person that teaches Diego the art of healing horses be a Muslim. Aside from the wonderful irony, having Diego being forced to deal with Galib is great, since Diego now harbors much resentment against the Muslims and the Imesebelen. Diego, though, learns from Galib that the Muslim religion is like any other, in that there are good Muslims, and not good Muslims, just like there are good Christians and not good Christians. Giner has Diego learn that even Galib hates the actions of the Almohads. Galib pointed out to Diego that it was the Almohads, not peaceful Muslims, that were to blame for the murder of so many innocents.
|Image: The Hero’s Journey [image only] |
Another compelling technique Giner utilizes in his storytelling is “The Hero’s Journey.” The hero’s Journey, as Joseph Campbell explained, in a now famous quote from the Introduction of The Hero With A Thousand Faces, “A hero ventures forth from the world of common day into a region of supernatural wonder; fabulous forces are there encountered and a decisive victory is won; the hero comes back from this mysterious adventure with the power to bestow boons on his fellow man.” Undoubtedly, the hero’s journey is at once a technique that helps in creating intimacy and also forces the reader along on the journey where the protagonist grows into something more than he was.
|Ender’s Game is the win-
ner of the Nebula and
Hugo Awards. Ender’s
Game is a very popular
Hero’s Journey story.
Since I have extensively written about “The Hero’s Journey” in my blog posts, I will not bore you with another repetition of the material, nor will I unduly add to this post’s length by such repetition. If, however, you would like to read more about the fascinating world of the hero’s journey (in detail), then, one of my posts you might enjoy is Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card, Part 2 ‘Monomyth: The Hero’s Journey]. Simply click on the link, here.
Part and parcel of the Hero’s Journey is the growth of the hero (protagonist). Diego’s growth has much to do with how he handles his adversity, how he refuses to give up on his dreams, and how he seeks out and finds people to help him. The Hero’s Journey satisfies the longing and desire for our own journey–here, we find it vicariously through our protagonist.
|This is one way to tell a horses’ age. |
Well, here’s the problem. Sabba (Diego’s horse friend) was mature at the beginning of the story, then as the story progresses, some seventeen years, we see Sabba and Diego in the battle of Las Navas de Telosa with Sabba acting like a youthful mare, not one who must be around twenty or twenty-one. An average lifespan of a horse is 25-30 years, so Sabba was fairly old by the time of the battle. No where do we see Giner have Diego address Sabba’s aging or how fit she was in her twilight years. It bothered me that this important aspect of Sabba’s life was not addressed.
1. Parallel story threads run throughout the novel. I’ve already mentioned The Hero’s Journey and Diego’s growth, above.
2. The two girls–who grow into womanhood during the length of the book–and their two stories alternate in the book with Diego’s.
3. The story of the horses, including Sabba, and their importance during this time. The horses touch other themes in the book, for example, Diego’s growth as an albéitar or veterinarian.
4. Political movements amongst the various countries, monarchs, and leaders, and how common men, such as Galib or Diego, interact with the Kings because they had to keep the monarch’s horses well.
5. Diego’s motivation: Is Diego running away from the past, or his motivation propelling him towards a goal? Diego seems ashamed he did not live up to his promise to his father, but at the same time, he wants to make right his mistakes. So with this tangled issue, what is Diego’s true motivation?
This is one artist’s conception of the battle at Las Navas de Tolosa. Import-
antly, the artist includes the Imesebelen for the Caliph. 
6. Love and sex: Diego gives into temptation with Galib’s wife, Benezir, and it ruins his relationship with Galib. What about Diego’s lost love with Mencía? Since it was Diego’s choice to leave Mencía, and since he believed it was true love, why did he go? Why did he refuse sex with the woman pur- chased for him (for the night) by Men- cía’s uncle? Did Al-Nasir Love Estela or was his “love” something else, like possession, control, sexual desire, or fascination with her uniqueness (red hair)? Why did he have Estela flogged, leaving her scarred?
7. Women in the book: Fatima, Benezir, Mencía, Diego’s three sisters (Belinda, Blanca, and Estela), Najla (sister of al-Nasir), and Sancha de Laredo. What do these women have in common? Why does Estela think she must have something in common with Mencía, even though she doesn’t know her? How did women in the Middle Ages survive? What did women, then, have to give up?–think about what each woman had to give up, or what they lost.
8. Diego loved his horse friend Sabba. At what point in the story did Diego fail Sabba? Was Diego “running away” or was he “running towards” his goal? Did this failure help Diego grow as a young man? Did Diego also fail his standards as an albéitar (veterinarian) in regards to Sabba?
So many wonderful themes, motifs and issues could be addressed in this book. For example, did Diego “make things right,” and with whom did he make things right, if anyone? How can he ever make right the death of his sister, Belinda? Infidelity with Galib’s wife? Betrayal of his albéitar (veterinarian) standard to do no harm (which he does with Sabba)? Others?
So many delicious things to contemplate in regards to Giner’s novel (and I never even addressed his time at the monastery). If you choose to read this book think about these questions as you go through the novel and see what delightful insights come to you.
I highly recommend this book to those desiring to be veterinarians, lovers of all things Spanish, history buffs, women who struggle for women’s rights or who want to become more knowledgeable about the past, horse lovers, lovers of large horses, war horses, or modernly dressage horses, those who love healing, etc. Only those readers who are young or of a sensitive nature should consider other themes regarding violence and death, sexuality, enslavement, and descriptions of medical procedures, before they read the book.
Given all the reasons I have stated, above, I award this wonderful book a rating of 5 stars out of 5 stars.In fact, I thoroughly enjoyed this book, not only for the horses in the story, but also for Diego’s growth, and his desire to be really good at his art. I loved the stories of the women and the courage of them to fight even though it was very costly. Most of all, I love how Gonzalo Giner pulls us into the immediacy of the story, making us feel and walk along side the characters.
Thank you for joining me this week as we got to look at a very enjoyable book, The Horse Healer: A Novel, by Gonzalo Giner. Please join me next time as we take up a book very different from this one. It is one, I am sure you will enjoy reading about. So…
Until next time….
|This flower is a double Rose of Sharon. |
…many happy pages of reading.
All my love,
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