“I, Loshad'” (short story) by Jiří Kratochvil
English Publication History: Best European Fiction 2012 (2011)
Original: Czech (?), 2010
Translated by Andrew Oakland, 2010
Synopsis: In the late stages of the second world war, a Russian unit stations itself in the city of Brno in German-occupied Czechoslovakia expecting to meet the aggression of Hilter’s forces. Among the simple and well-worn foot soldiers is a noble steed, one of which had been bred pure and given a comfortable upbringing; in fact, the horse was also well educated by Dmitri Ivanovich; further, it held architecture and philosophy in very high regard, both of which it could speak about in more than it’s native tongue. The horse sees itself in a very different state of affairs with the military; though it has lived much longer than his equine brethren, it knows its time draws near. The horse (which the reader later learns is named Orlando) is under observation and care of General Pliyev, but it’s the stable hands who care for the horse–simple folk, simple pleasures. When the unit learns of Hitler’s defeat, they understand that the war is won and the fight is over; thus, their idea of celebration begins: debauchery or alcohol and rape. Orlando is witness to this, but, as he has been since joined the unit, he remains mum, not giving away his secret ability of speech and swathe of knowledge. As the stable hands want Orlando to celebrate too, they lead him to the room where the shamed and objectified woman lays. Here, Orlando not only faces the nature of a human, but it faces the nature of its self, its country, and its future.
Analysis: Though only spanning 14 pages, the story gracefully arches like Venice’s Bridge of Sighs: short and simple, yet laden with history and beauty. While the bridge pictures stands above placid waters, “I, Loshad'” teeters over the turgid waters of the end of WWII. I’m unable to give a deep analysis to the story’s background and time, which it surely deserves, but I feel that this post endows the story with the grace it deserves.
Aside from the beauty, intelligence, and uniqueness of the story, another thing that came to mind upon finishing the story is a proverb: “Misfortune comes on horseback and goes away on foot,” which can be interpreted many ways. Firstly, the occupies who came in grace upon horseback (to fight the Germans) later left in disgrace on foot (after raping the German woman). Secondly, Orlando came into the war on his own four legs, but he left upon the legs of many others. Lastly, burdensome lessons of the occupier during the war were forced upon the land, but lessons learnt were carried by the people themselves.
Review: As waxed somewhat lyrically above, it’s obvious that I was impressed with the story due to the aforementioned reasons. It’s not science fiction, but it enters the realm of speculative fiction as the horse literally speaks German; it falls outside the realm of realty into that of the supernatural, which is why include the story here. In the same 34-story collection, there’s another story that features a talking magpie (Michael Stauffer’s “The Woman with the Stocks”), but it’s used as a vehicle to cast uncertainty upon one’s character’s grasp of reality. The collection as a whole is fantastic (with a rating of 4.5), where more than 30 of the stories lingered in my mind upon completion; Most fall in the range of 3.5 – 4.5 stars, but “I, Loshad'” was the only one where I said, “Wow.”