Review: Haji’s Exile by Alan Chin

Nathan has cared for horses all his life, but Haji is the first he’ll train on his own. When the Arabian stallion arrives at Bitter Coffee Ranch, Nathan thinks he is the most beautiful thing he’s ever seen. And then he lays eyes on Haji’s handler, Yousef. Nathan has much to learn about horses, about pride, and about love, but with the ranch’s hopes riding on Haji, he’ll also learn that all things have their price.

A Bittersweet Dreams title: It’s an unfortunate truth: love doesn’t always conquer all. Regardless of its strength, sometimes fate intervenes, tragedy strikes, or forces conspire against it. These stories of romance do not offer a traditional happy ending, but the strong and enduring love will still touch your heart and maybe move you to tears.

Review by Erastes

Haji is a beautiful 3-year old colt (called stallion here) which Nathan’s father has bought from North Africa to race. Haji’s handler, Yousef is beautiful too, and Nathan finds him so.

When Haji’s handler creeps into Nathan’s room and sex happens, it was rather a surprise. The two of them had hardly spoken (Yousef has hardly any English) and the only leering had been from Nathan’s direction towards Yousef, and he’d only been on the racing stable for a couple of days. It did seem a little bit of a risk, seeing Nathan was the boss’s son. But considering what Yousef does every morning after sex, perhaps that’s not surprising. I wasn’t very keen on this device, it was never explained and doesn’t give a good picture of Yousef at all.

The trouble I had with the book was my deep knowledge of horse husbandry. If you want to make me like your protagonist, then do not have them smashing a 3 year old Arabian colt in the muzzle twice, as hard as you possibly can with a riding crop, and have the man who dedicates his life to that horse just stand by and watch.

It was hard to take off my “horse” head and be objective after that, it really shocked me, even in the 1950’s–if one has been raised around horses, particularly sensitive, hugely expensive racing stock one doesn’t do that. You should never hit a horse in the head, anyway–granted the horse bit him, but the easiest way to deal with a biter is to bite him back–because that’s what they do to each other for punishment.

Another equine quibble before I shut up about it – Haji has damaged tendons, and this is the equivalent of a sprained ankle, it means rest, ice and compression–and he was being ridden regularly. That kind of injury is a horse owner’s nightmare as it takes weeks or months to recover fully–if the horse even does. The horse’s fitness is still much in doubt when it is run on the track, and that shows no love for the horse, merely the want of winning.

OK – that aside, this book is exquisitely written in parts, some of the description is quite breathtakingly beautiful, if a little self-conscious, because it’s just done in parts, jumping from very beautiful prose to work-a-day prose and then back again. This is definitely a good book to start with to get a feel of Chin’s style, although he does seem to be improving with every book.

The racetrack section is well done, you get a feeling of tension and race of course is exciting in the way that all horse races are, but Nathan once more didn’t win any prizes for behaving like a baby and risking his, Haji’s and Yousef’s life.

There were a couple of jarring homonyms: metal/mettle, bail/bale, a bit too much for such a small book which should have been spotted.

It’s short–only 3o pages or so, but worth the money for the sheer beauty of much of the prose. I can’t award it five stars simply because I loathed both protagonists and was given no reason to forgive Nathan particularly as he cared far more for sex and Yousef than for the horses, and I found the ending a little odd, along the lines of Outer Limits or Tales of the Unexpected– the whole thing didn’t really gel together for me.

Author’s website

Buy from Dreamspinner Press

One Response

  1. I haven’t read the book but I agree with you about horse management mistakes. They ruin a book for me!

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