A young Englishwoman takes on the world’s longest and most difficult horse race in Lara Prior-Palmer's memoir, "Rough Magic: Riding the World's Loneliest Horse Race."
In 2013, Prior-Palmer came across a photograph of the Mongol Derby: “long-maned ponies streaming over green steppes, space poured wild and free — in Mongolia.” The deadline was fast approaching, and the race’s organizer gave her a discount to help defray the costly entry fee. The Derby, a “truly peculiar invention,” is a seven-day, 1,000-kilometer race on 25 wild Mongolian ponies, descendants, writes the author, of “Genghis Khan’s famed Takhi horses, the ones that shouldered his empire’s postal system from the thirteenth century onwards.” Every 40 kilometers, at stations called urtuus, tired horses are replaced with new ones; riders rest, eat and use the toilets (holes in the ground). Each of the competitors has a rough map of the course, a not-always-reliable GPS device and “nylon endurance saddles.” In this feisty and exhilarating debut memoir, Prior-Palmer smoothly recounts what happened over her momentous week in August. Right at the start, she fell behind: “Where to go? I was hoping to follow someone. … I can see only sun.” Over the next seven days, she fought aching bruises, torrential rain, brutal heat and a rough fall. She continuously scoured the vast horizon for “hamster cities,” the holes of which could seriously injure a horse, and she dodged herds of nibbling goats while the horses dealt with Mongolian families’ nipping dogs. The author personalizes the horses with names: Brolly, Dunwoody and “7.” As she raced, carrying a copy of Shakespeare’s "The Tempest," she channeled her Aunt Lucinda, “my go-to ahead of any equestrian event,” to help her get through each arduous day. After the apparent winner was penalized for overheating her horse, the author, who was second, was declared the winner — the youngest ever and the first woman.
Although the narrative occasionally veers off course, horse lovers will adore this inspiring and spirited memoir.
(Prior-Palmer will speak and sign her book at 7 p.m. Wednesday at BookPeople, 603 N. Lamar Blvd. Information: bookpeople.com)
Shining a light on tragedy
Longtime CNN Africa reporter Isha Sesay delivers a close-up report on the Chibok girls, attempting to bring their story “full circle” and “resurrect public interest in this mass abduction," in "Beneath the Tamarind Tree: A Story of Courage, Family, and the Lost Schoolgirls of Boko Haram."
On April 14, 2014, the extremist group Boko Haram stormed into a predominately Christian school in Chibok, Nigeria, and kidnapped 276 schoolgirls. This event triggered worldwide press coverage, but as the months wore on and the girls didn’t return home, the world’s attention turned elsewhere. Fortunately, award-winning journalist Sesay — the former host of "CNN Newsroom Live From Los Angeles" who spent more than a decade reporting on Africa for the network — didn’t forget this story, and she offers a compelling, empathetic tale that focuses on the lives of four of the Chibok girls and their immediate family members. The author, who grew up in Sierra Leone and Britain, intertwines her thoughts and feelings regarding the kidnapping with the history of the region, the political, social and economic events that gave rise to Boko Haram, and the personal accounts of Priscilla, Dorcas, Mary and Saa. Sesay’s attention to detail places readers with the girls under a giant tamarind tree, one of their many naturally made prisons deep in the Sambisa forest, where they scrounged for food and water and fought off the constant demands of their captors to convert to Islam. Although many of the girls did convert and have not been heard from since, a greater portion remained steadfast in their Christian beliefs. The author also explains what the Nigerian government has done to find the missing girls. She notes that, in the beginning, many Nigerians believed the abduction was “no more than an elaborate hoax with political objectives.” The joyous homecoming of 21 of the Chibok girls in 2016 prompted Sesay to compile her notes on this fascinating and emotionally charged telling of the girls’ story, which will hopefully put those still missing back into the limelight.
Rich details and dedicated, courageous reporting create a powerful tale of faith, love and loss.