The Winter Horses by Philip Kerr
(Tantor Audio, 2015)
Read by James Langton
This title is a nominee in the 2016 Audie Awards: Young Adult Category
From Goodreads: “It will soon be another cold winter in the Ukraine. But it's 1941, and things are different this year. Max, the devoted caretaker of an animal preserve, must learn to live with the Nazis who have overtaken this precious land. He must also learn to keep secrets-for there is a girl, Kalinka, who is hiding in the park. Kalinka has lost her home, her family, her belongings-everything but her life. Still, she has gained one small, precious gift: a relationship with the rare, wild, and wily Przewalski's horses that wander the preserve. Aside from Max, these endangered animals are her only friends-until a Nazi campaign of extermination nearly wipes them out for good. Now Kalinka must set out on a treacherous journey across the frozen forest to save the only two surviving horses-and herself.”
The Winter Horses is dreamy yet chilling reflection on a lesser-explored impact of invasions and war, on the destruction of non-human life. Kalinka and Max are charming and sympathetic and their love of the Przewalski's horses makes them extra heroic. (The real story of these horses, which were on the brink of extinction in 1945 and are still endangered today, is a heroic tale in itself.) There isn’t muchgrey area here, though the head Nazi is at least a little sorry about his mandate to kill all of the rare horses. But as the mystically-presented horses (they commune with Kalinka and conspire with Max’s dog to work together for everyone’s safety) move across the sweeping steppes, a more cynical person than me would still be rooting for their success.
James Langton growls and glowers and is otherwise guttural and good at this narration. He reads clearly and with verve, and leaves the accents behind as often as he can. His expository sections trip along with a storyteller’s cadence. I’d wish every kid a grandfather who can read bedtime books like Langton.