Tuesday, March 4, 2014

One Hundred and Four Horses by Mandy Retzlaff

When Pat and Mandy Retzlaff settled on Crofton farm in lush Zimbabwe, they imagined giving their children the same sort of idyllic African childhood that Pat had experienced and leaving them the thriving farm as legacy when they were grown.  For a while, it seemed as if that would be the case as they threw themselves into farming tomatoes and tobacco, taking their kids for rides into the wild African bush on their favorite horses, and making friends with the family on the neighboring farm.  Unfortunately, the life they had dreamed for themselves and their children was not to become a reality.  Instead, the couple became wrapped up in the living nightmare of Robert Mugabe's Zimbabwe, where farms were often stolen from their rightful white owners to be redistributed back to the African natives, or, more accurately, Mugabe's political cronies.

The Retzlaffs and their neighbors on Two Tree farm were driven under threat of violence from their homes and livelihoods in one shot, leaving them on the run for safety with their beloved horses in a nation that would continue to grow increasingly hostile to its white population.  Fleeing from farm to farm in search of a safe haven, each time refusing to leave their horses to uncertain, violent fates, Pat and Mandy soon got a reputation as being the "horse people," and many farmers and ranchers fleeing Zimbabwe sought them out to take in the horses that would otherwise be left behind. Eventually forced to leave behind the country they loved, One Hundred and Four Horses is Mandy's story of how she and her husband managed to ferry a nation's abandoned horses to new life.

I loved One Hundred and Four Horses.  It proved to be a huge reading funk-buster for me.  After struggling with a few books that were lackluster and whose characters seemed too affected for real life, the authenticity of Mandy Retzlaff's voice was a breath of fresh air.  The writing, while occasionally artless, gave the impression of being written letters by a well-loved friend going through an incredible trial.  Retzlaff's love for her kids and her occasionally hot-tempered, always determined husband shines through in her writing.  Furthermore, the couple's love and admiration for their horses, both the ones that started out as theirs and the ones that they adopted along the way, penetrates Retzlaff's narrative, so much so that I felt as if I knew and loved the horses, too, and would practically be biting my nails as they were rustled out from under one dangerous situation or another.

This is a book that animal lovers will both love and hate.  The Retzlaffs' actions in saving so many  horses under such terrible circumstances were downright heroic and when things went their way, my heart soared.  Unfortunately, bad situations were rife in two countries in Africa where the rule of law had gone by the wayside, and obviously, death, destruction and frustration follow.  My heart was both warmed and broken at the same time as I experienced Mandy Retzlaff's roller coaster of a book.  There were some occurrences that were truly difficult to read about, but the Retzlaffs' tale is so irresistible that there was no stopping until the last page was turned and the fate of the horses secured.

(Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for my honest review.)


  1. Oh man, that sounds like my kind of book!

  2. This sounds like quite a book, one that would bring about a lot of tears, no doubt. I will have to look for this one.