One Hundred and Four Horses is the account of a couple’s life in Zimbabwe as the country’s economy falls apart, and farms owned by white settlers are seized for war veterans. Mandy Retzlaff and her husband Paul own a farm on which they grow tomatoes and tobacco, and breed a few horses. It seems like an idyllic life, even with the growing political turmoil in the country. When their friends’ farms are seized, the Retzlaffs know it is only a matter of time. As the situation deteriorates, and friends and colleagues are forced from their farms, the Retzlaffs begin to collect horses from those who flee. They have to move from their own settlement, and move from farm to farm with an ever-increasing number of horses. Eventually they run out of places to run to, and move the whole herd over the border to Mozambique.
Although once they’re in Mozambique the family no longer have immediate threats to life and limb, life is by no means easy. It’s particularly hard for the horses, who are poached for food, seized in reparation for (sometimes trumped up) crimes, and who are poisoned when their grazing turns out to contain lethal plants. Enough horses survive for the Retzlaffs to be able to make a living running a riding school, which is what they continue to do.
It becomes clear during the book that some of the Retzlaff’s staff from the farm have stuck with them through thick and thin, and it would have added to the book to hear more about their contribution. However, you cannot read the book without being amazed at the sheer resilience of this family as blow after blow falls upon them. The descriptions of trying to survive in a country with systems very different from the western ones the Retzlaffs grew up with are eye opening. The horses provide a constant focus for them when everything else is falling apart: although they cannot save their land, they can save the horses.
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Mandy Retzlaff – One Hundred and Four Horses
William Collins, 2013, £16.99
Available in Kobo (£8.49), Kindle (£5.69) and Nook ebook format ($14.99)