The Red Horse: A book you won’t be able to put down ~ The Library Project


red horse



Author: Eugenio Corti

Title: The Red Horse (available now only as an e-book, but do try to find a hardcover copy somewhere, for posterity’s sake!)

File Under: Historical Fiction, Foundational

Age Group: Adult, older teenager who has already read The Gulag Archipelago by Solzhenitzyn

Two comments on Deirdre’s {bits & pieces} post put me in mind of this book. In the spirit of what would occur if we were all having iced tea on the deck, let’s say I’d get very fired up about making you read The Red Horse. If we were having this talk about kitchens, Communism, and present-day America face-to-face, you’d hear about it!

Not that it’s an iced-tea kind of book. Not at all.

Besides, Eugenio Corti died recently, in February. It’s past time to bring up this book. After I read it, I had long conversations with him in my mind. I meant to write to him. I can’t remember exactly what about. Most likely just me gushing (so inappropriately, as this is a serious and deep work) about how much I love him and how he is a modern Tolstoy or an Italian Solzhenitsyn. I will have to try extra hard to get to heaven so that Corti and I can actually meet and discuss.

The comments are from dear readers Elizabeth and Corina. Do read them.

Both observed that it’s undeniable that the Soviet aim was to cut the family off at the root, which is its celebration of what I call a natural sacrament for a natural institution — that is, sharing a meal — by eliminating or severely curtailing the ability to prepare food in a normal way. (This effort, by the way, is a hallmark of all socialist experiments. For a revealing study on what the characteristics of socialism might be, read The Socialist Phenomenon by Igor Shafarevich. I’m linking to it here so you can recognize it at a yard sale — it’s also one for posterity. Spoiler: another characteristic is trying to erase the differences between the sexes.)

Yet, they each point out, somehow the restrictions gave rise to an ever stronger determination to make do with what they had. We’ve alluded here to the reports of huge amounts of Russia’s fresh food being produced at the dacha — the summer home of many a Russian family*. Elizabeth, speaking of Lithuania, and Corina, about Romania, remark on this as well. They tell of families gathering together to raise and preserve food and to share it together with gusto, and in the process, drawing ever closer in the sacred bond of family.

Thus, they point out, somehow the socialist experiment failed in this regard.

And here in our gloriously free society with its granite and stainless steel acreage enshrining what ought to be the preparation of our vast quantities of readily available food, families rarely eat together, much less join in the happy activity of preserving what they’ve grown.

You might say this is the theme of The Red Horse.

An epic story of four Italian men in World War II, the book minutely explores what was at stake in that war. Uniquely, this is a Catholic perspective. Almost hidden at the beginning is a tribute to what might have been — a Catholic approach to industrialization and the prosperity promised in a free economic system. I say almost hidden, because it seems that many have missed this uniquely Catholic view of Corti’s political views. I’ve seen some project their own perception of a simple choice between agrarianism on the one hand and a system of faceless corporations on the other, failing to see any other way. Corti hints at what could have been. That first section of The Red Horse, where it seems that nothing is happening, is actually quite important to understanding his real view of life as it was, in an Italian village just before the war — before all the terrors began and life changed irrevocably.

The overpowering menace of Communism destroys an emerging way of life that promises so much. The book explores in vivid and unforgettable prose the experiences of the four men, officers, as they fight, and the impact of their experiences on the wider sphere of family and society (there are some beautiful love stories as well).

Most importantly, The Red Horse shows the aftermath — the inability of the men, as intelligent and articulate as they had been, to express in any meaningful way what they had discovered, especially about the horrors of totalitarianism in action, once they return. And it shows, as the narrative follows them in the decades after the war, how, although Communism lost the war for total control of the world as envisioned by Stalin, Marxism did succeed in important ways to detach man from his hierarchical nature — especially as expressed in church, family, and community.

Thus, although I haven’t experienced what Elizabeth and Corina tell us in their comments, I can agree with the irony that our freedom hasn’t given many of us, as a society, the actual good things of life, and somehow, although they suffered to the extreme, the cultures of these formerly occupied countries have regained something of what was taken from them.

I’d even say that when we experience a bit of hardship in the material sphere, we might challenge ourselves to see it as a blessing. It really does seem as if, when the hardships are met with spirit, great graces abound. I’d rather make do in an inadequate kitchen on one income with my loved ones than have the fatted ox and no one to share it with because I’m too busy making money!

I started the category of Foundational reading to indicate a book I think you could read, hopefully while you are still young, but no matter if not, that will educate you in a foundational way — it will give you the necessary intellectual tools for your life. This category is for my tippity-top recommendations for discerning truth and for understanding reality: each book is of the highest quality of its kind. If we are to have the big picture of our times, the history of the twentieth century is one we must know. The problem is that the ideologies involved are still very much a part of how information gets through to us. Totalitarianism remains the threat we face, only it takes new forms and is sometimes hard to recognize. Corti knows this.

The Red Horse is a huge book — actually three volumes in its original best-selling European form — and thus one certainly more comfy to read as an e-book (I almost knocked myself out reading the hardcover in bed). It starkly depicts the sufferings of those fighting and enduring in Europe. I have read many a book on the outrages committed by Germans and Russians, and I was still shocked — so, fair warning!

But it also deeply conveys the truth and beauty of faith and love. The truths of the human spirit that Corti expresses can never be lost, as long as we are determined not to lose our memory.

 What is the Like Mother, Like Daughter Library Project?


*It’s a subject of some romance amongst American earthy-crunchy critics that Russians grow so much food at their dachas. This interesting albeit at times pendantic study delves into the realities more thoroughly, also making some of the connections about interpersonal relationships that Elizabeth and Corina indicate.


  1. says

    Argh! Just yesterday I was complaining to Sukie that our public library got rid of its copy of The Red Horse– with my bookmark still in it!– and now they just have stupid thriller novels. We managed to rescue another beloved book from their book sale cart, but this one I missed.

  2. says

    Okay, I bought this for my son years ago. Last summer I put it on my night stand with intent to read it but I have left it to gather dust. Tonight I will blow off the dust and dive in! Thanks for the kick in the pants!

  3. Kim says

    My husband and I bought this book back when it was first available. Love it-such a great book. So glad to see you recommending it!!

  4. Elizabeth says

    Thank you, auntie Leila, for this post! I wish I’d grown up in an intellectual yet homey family like yours.
    This is a topic I ponder regularly, and it’s often meeting people from former Communist countries (or visiting those countries, which is easier when you’re European) that stirs up my thoughts.
    For example my dad remembers praying for the poor people behind the iron curtain every night. But once the curtain had fallen and he met and talked to people there, they told him they’d been praying for them! Not because they naively believed that life was worse outside the communist zone, but because they knew the dangers of unlimited wealth and freedom. He was absolutely astonished, as you can imagine.

    This is an interesting article about ‘Ostalgie’, the nostalgia of people from Eastern Germany about life in Communist Germany.
    What people, in the end, seem to miss most, is a strong sense of community.

    This is the same kind of loss my grandparents lament, but they lost it 30 years earlier, in Western-Europe.

    Thank you for the book recommendation, I will definitely try to find that book!

  5. says

    I just finished reading With God in Russia by Father Walter Ciszek and it was really good. I’m totally on a Russia kick right now (what is it about that country that is so interesting…and so sad!) My husband, after reading With God read some ebook (I couldn’t tell you which one) about the Romanov’s. It’s amazing how in one minute (at least it seems that way) you had a very devout country and in the next minute God was basically erased. Although the book does talk about pockets where Father Ciszek found very devout people who were hungry for the Sacraments. The Red Horse will be added to my (growing) reading list.

  6. Lucy says

    There are probably a lot of great books detailing the horrors of the communist regime, but if anyone is interested, Red Sky Black Death by Anna Timofeyeva-Yegorova gives the fascinating perspective of a woman pilot during WWII who displayed the blind loyalty to country that results in, well, states like the Soviet Union.

  7. Colette says

    Off I go on another book-buying binge! These library posts set me off ;) Fascinating stuff to me about the Russian communism. I remember reading a book in high school (don’t recall the name, I’m afraid) about the revolution in Mexico in the 1930’s. The communist agenda was directed not at the parents, but at the children in the schools, sex education being a large factor, to break the family unit.

    Another fascinating book is “Wild Swans: Three Daughters of China” by Jung Chang, that gives an account of 3 generations of women and the rise of communism there. The comment about erasing the difference between the sexes reminded me of it.

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