Tuesday, 11 March 2014

PBOTD 11th March: Kate Seredy - The Chestry Oak

Today's Pony Book of the Day, The Chestry Oak (1948) is the most horse-filled of author Kate Seredy's works. Its hero, Michael, like its author, journeys from Hungary to America, where he makes a new home. Kate Seredy (1899-1975) was born in Budapest. During the First World War she served as a nurse, moving to America in 1922, where she wrote and illustrated. The Chestry Oak is the most horse-filled of her books. I was lucky, and found my copy, along with The Good Master and The Singing Tree in a bookshop in Warwick. I won't depress you by telling you what I paid for my copy, but will just observe that it has become staggeringly expensive now. If you do want to read Kate Seredy, her The Good Master was published by Puffin in paperback, and that's still easy to find.

Harrap, first UK edition, 1957
The Chestry Oak is set during the Second World War. The Nazis  have invaded Hugary, but Prince Michael and his family are still living in their Hungarian castle. Michael's father is pretending to be a Nazi sympathiser in order to hang on to his lands, but the tentacles of the Nazis and their beliefs are insinuating themselves ever further into the castle. There is appalling tension as everyone around believes Michael's father is a traitor to the Hungarian cause. Michael is forced to leave everything he loves, as the war progresses, including his horse.

The Chestry Oak - internal illustration
 In America, the promised land for so many, miracles do happen, and Michael meets Midnight, his horse, again. There are no easy and pat endings though, and Michael recognises that after one glorious moment of reunion, the horse is not his: he's "a stallion, he belonged to all time to come, to mares and to foals. No saddle horse, no poet. A warrior, a king."

The Chestry Oak - internal illustration
It's a rare horse book that doesn't have possession as its theme: in The Chestry Oak, one can lose everything, and lose it again, but still be the stronger.

The Chestry Oak was first published by Viking in New York in 1948. The first British edition was published by Harrap in 1957, with the Bodley Head producing a later printing in 1985. Sadly I do not have a photograph of this.

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For more on Kate Seredy and her books, see her page on my website.

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