Iván Repila - Two brothers, Big and Small, are trapped at the bottom of a well. They have no food and little chance of rescue. Only the tempting spectre of insanity offers a way out. As Small's wits fail, Big formulates a desperate plan

Iván Repila: The Boy Who Stole Attila's Horse
Iván Repila,  The Boy Who Stole Attila's Horse, Trans. by Sophie Hughes, Pushkin Press, 2015




excerpt


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A brave, original allegory of our modern world 'It looks impossible to get out,' he says. And also: 'But we'll get out.' Two brothers, Big and Small, are trapped at the bottom of a well. They have no food and little chance of rescue. Only the tempting spectre of insanity offers a way out. As Small's wits fail, Big formulates a desperate plan. With the authority of the darkest fables, and the horrifying inevitability of all-too-real life, Repila's unique allegory explores the depths of human desperation and, ultimately, our almost unending capacity for hope.


This short novella – and that is not a pleonasm, as the book could not be much more than 20,000 words long top to tail – is one of the most unpleasant stories I’ve read in ages. You can take that how you will, though I read so many books without finishing them, and finish so many without reviewing them, that you might have guessed even by now that I do recommend it.
The Boy Who Stole Attila’s Horse (2013, tr. 2015 by Sophie Hughes) is another book – like Ishiguro’s The Buried Giant – which both attracts and repels consideration as an allegory. It is as grim as a good fairy tale and has a strong, simple story: two brothers, referred to only as Big and Small, trapped in a well. The opening line sets up the oppositions at the heart of the book:
‘It looks impossible to get out,’ he says. And also: ‘But we’ll get out.’
The well is too deep to climb, with walls that slope steeply overhead “like an empty pyramid with no tip.” We don’t know why they are in there, though others know about their predicament, so we presume it’s not accidental. Initially, they exert a lot of effort and energy in trying to escape, shouting for help but soon abandoning that, and culminating in a failed attempt by Big to throw Small up and out to safety.
Big shouts Now, and lets go, and with his eyes still closed Small breaks free and he takes off from the earth towards the sun like a comet of bones, and for just a few seconds he is flying, but he smashes, literally smashes into the wall, producing a dull crunch that drowns out any cry; and then, unconscious and bleeding from the mouth, he falls the few metres that separate him and the floor and lands on the dizzy body of his brother, like a circus act that ends in a bundle of piled up flesh, and no applause.
You can see the violent physicality of the writing. This is a feature of the story throughout, and Repila never permits the reader to look away as the brothers’ bodies and minds deteriorate over weeks and months. (The tally of days they have been trapped is given by the non-consecutive chapter numbers, all of which are primes: perhaps because like prime numbers, the brothers are indivisible, inseparable, akin to the twins in Kristof’s The Notebook.) The presence of the physical quickly becomes grotesque, from hunger fantasies Big has about biting into Small’s eyes “and suck[ing] out the white jelly”, to Small coughing up “green mucus, thick like jam.” When the brothers have been starving for weeks (day 47), they capture a bird that flies into the well, but fearing that their wasted stomachs will be unable to cope with the meat, they instead allow it to rot and then eat the maggots that grow from it. As their captivity and isolation continues, the brothers leave civility and sociality far behind. There are hallucinations, jumbled language and howls of hatred and inchoate rage:
“Life is wonderful, but living is unbearable. I’d like to pare down existence. To pronounce over a century one long, inimitable word, and for that word to be my true testament.”
Their unexplainable behaviour may, it turns out, have straight thinking behind it, as Small wastes away and Big tries to keep fit with exercise and 80% of the food. We know, for example – I’ve concealed this for longer than the book does – that they do have food, but that they won’t eat it because it’s to be given to their mother. This emphasises the story’s unreality and its status as allegory for – what? The text explicitly suggests numerous interpretations. An environmental fable (“In his dream the well is big like a city. Some say the citizens are all starving because the land exhausted itself”). A parable of leaving childhood (“‘Then what is this anger I can feel inside?’ ‘You’re becoming a man'”). Of man’s inhumanity, or the artist’s cruelty, when Small fantasises that he is “the boy who stole Attila’s horse to make shoes out of his hooves” and uses them to walk over people. “I felt important, like a painter.”
But the strongest fit is with an allegory suggested by the book’s two epigraphs, from the surprising combination of Margaret Thatcher and Bertholt Brecht: of economic inequality, and revolutionary rage. It is no coincidence then that the well is a pyramid, representing the structure of society, or that the brothers know their place and quickly give up crying for help. They are at the bottom of the pile, but the story suggests that they will not be there forever, and the ending leaves a strong and frightening image first of capitulation, then of revenge. Certainly this is a book which packs huge weight for its size; the same sort of disparity as between Big and Small, or between what we expect, and what we might get.
‘Once we are up there, we’ll throw a party.’
‘A party?’
‘Yes.’
‘The kind with balloons and lights and cakes?’
‘No. The kind with rocks, torches and gallows.’ - John Self




In this short, intense novel (translated from Spanish by Sophie Hughes), two young brothers are trapped down a well. The relationship between them is schematic; they are Big and Small. They are children but they also carry a heavy freight of allegory. While their desperate situation drives the narrative – the cold and wet, their pitiful scrabbling for food – realism is not the order of the day, but rather the distorted, disturbing exaggerations of expressionism. Who put the boys down the well and why? Answers are hinted at, anchoring the text in some semblance of conventional plot and resolution, but the author is much more interested in exploring metaphors of suffering and endurance, subjecting the smaller boy, in particular, to extremes of mental and physical distress. For the publishers it’s “a brave, original allegory of our modern world”, suggesting, perhaps inevitably, “our almost unending capacity for hope”. But the text itself resists such a neat interpretation. What hope there is is tentative, and the book’s provocative epigraphs from Margaret Thatcher and Bertolt Brecht suggest a political agenda rather than a more universal statement about humanity. -


A very strong recommendation for The Boy Who Stole Attila’s Horse by Iván Repila (translated by Sophie Hughes). This is Repila’s first book in English and the second that he has published. It makes me very curious to read his first book, as well as anything he happens to publish in the future. Repila is from Spain and was born in 1978.
John Self has ably summed up the book’s conceit and pointed out a number of its features, so I’ll point interested readers in that direction.
It’s about two boys stuck at the bottom of a well. Like The Woman in the Dunes, another book about people trapped in a hole, it has a strong allegorical feel to it, but it’s not simple to reduce this book to a message or a point. There are a few sentences scattered throughout the might lead a reader in one direction or another, but for the most part Repila simply concerns himself with elaborating the relationship between the two boys, the increasing madness of the smaller one, and the extraordinary mental and physical depredations that their plight subjects them to.
Repila has written a very disturbing book that one feels physically as one reads it. It is a short book, but one with a very powerful impact and that would support multiple readings. It’s quite impressive, and, as I mentioned before, it makes me wonder what might come next out of this person’s mind.
I should also mention Sophie Hughes’s translation, which is wonderful. I have not had a chance to read the Spanish, but I have no doubt in her skill here. The book reads beautifully in English. - Scott Esposito


Human suffering is one of literature’s enduring themes. When it involves the agony of children it becomes heightened and enters the realm of the unimaginable made all too real by war and famine, which show no pity for the innocent. These two new novels by Spanish writers born only six years apart place children in appalling predicaments.
In that of the younger, The Boy Who Stole Attila’s Horse, by Iván Repila – born in 1978 – two brothers, Big and Small, are trapped in a well with no hope of escape. Hunger drives Small to madness as death hovers over them. Only one will survive.
Out in the Open, by Jesús Carrasco – born in 1972 – is about an abused boy who has run away from home. Initially he hides in a tiny hole in the ground, listening to the search party calling his name. As the voices retreat he takes his chances and begins to plan his escape across a vast, arid plain. In addition to his pursuers he must deal with hunger, heat and the brutality of adults.
Neither is an easy book. Both are ambitious and relentless, sparing neither their characters nor the reader. Yet the difference between the two is devastating. The Boy Who Stole Attila’s Horse is high art, an imaginative allegorical work of breathtaking yet restrained lyric power: “ ‘It looks impossible to get out,’ he says. And also: ‘But we’ll get out.’ ” The well is compared with “an empty pyramid with no tip”.
Repila’s prose is clinical, precise and beautiful. His sinuous, lilting Spanish has been magnificently rendered into English by Sophie Hughes in a faultless, rhythmic translation that enables the bleak narrative to soar like an epic poem.
This exciting book casts an awesome spell; it is a metaphysical fable brought to life. The traditional European fairy tale has been born anew, laced with an even darker realism. “Small dreams about a swarm of butterflies and watches himself catch them with his long, retractable tongue.” The well becomes a battlefield, larger than the universe. Nature’s beauty is juxtaposed with the more repulsive aspects of decay.
By contrast
the most daunting challenge facing the English-language reader of Carrasco’s narrative is the leaden prose. Already billed as an “international bestseller”, and set to be published in 20 countries, this is a laboured, determinedly literary novel, heavy with weighted imagery: “The desolate howling of fire-scorched scrub.” What does that mean?
Carrasco favours wordy over statement. The boy recalls his previous life: “His father would arrive, breathing hard, initially thrilled and happy. They would form a whirlpool of people around him that would barely let him breathe, like a newly struck match that struggles at first and shows no sign of becoming the mellifluous flame that will eventually consume the matchstick. They would disinter him amid shouts of joy.”
The drama of the action, a chase, is undermined by repetitive descriptions of smells and references to exhaustion, thirst and hunger. There are the inevitable dead trees, foul water, the need to urinate, the act of urinating, his responses; the boy appears to move in slow motion. Each movement is explained with a zealous, overly detailed description, making the narrative appear far longer than it is or needs to be.
It certainly does drag on, and all too often Carrasco loses his intended effect through cliches: “The sky was a dark, dark blue. Up above, the stars were like jewels encrusted in a transparent sphere.”
The formal, stilted language is a problem; an even larger one is the stylistic presence of Cormac McCarthy’s apocalyptic influence. Yes, the boy meets a lone, stoic, quasi-saintly goatherd, aged and weakened, though resourceful. He helps the boy and symbolically steers him further into the harsh world of adults. The old man is forgiving yet not without anger.
At times the comparisons with McCarthy overpower the narrative, as do the baddies; it is difficult to accept that the evil bailiff, a brutish individual indifferent to the censure of others, would expend so much effort tracking down one of the apparently many boys he had abused.
It is not a fairy tale, and at no time does Carrasco appear to see the reader as more than passive, with nothing left to the imagination. There are some irritating points of logic. Early in the narrative, for example, while still crouched in his earthen pit, the boy recalls a crippled man “who moved about the streets on a kind of tricycle propelled by a handle that he turned, bending over it like an organ-grinder”. He had many dogs and would “travel the beaten paths heading north, the only ones his chariot could manage”.
So helpless was the man that the boy “often wondered why he didn’t get the dogs to pull him”. That seems to make some sense. But, straining for drama, Carrasco adds that the boy had been told that the cripple used to hang the dogs from an olive tree when he had no further use for them. The obvious reaction is to wonder how a man so physically challenged could suspend dogs from trees.
If the writing were better the story might well distract from the illogic. But it doesn’t. The boy recalls hunting rabbits. “Then, without mentioning his mother, he described, as if they were his own, his techniques for skinning a rabbit.” The goatherd explains that hunting is pointless, as the fire needed to cook meat would attract the men pursuing them. The boy sets off, returns with a rabbit and the old man cooks it – and all within a few sentences.
Reading Out in the Open (translated by Margaret Jull Costa; Harvill Secker, £12.99) is akin to being in a diving bell; it is very much at a remove from cohesion. It is surprisingly difficult to engage with it, as it reads like a painstakingly constructed performance piece too fraught to have taken the time to consider true emotion.
The stage is littered with props, but the prose fails to convey more than a superficial flow of words. For all the effort it is cold and predictable, particularly in its grotesque flourishes. For all the realism it is impossible to believe in the story.
But The Boy Who Stole Attila’s Horse explores through an artist’s eye what it means to be human. With echoes of Agota Kristof’s The Notebook and Jim Crace’s Being Dead , Repila guides the spectral brothers through the seven circles of hell as they encounter fear, hunger, madness, rage, acceptance of death and the grief of survival.
After weeks of starvation they fight over a dead bird, aware that eating it will kill them. All existence is experienced within the well. Repila, a seer possessed of daunting vision, alerts us to the possibilities of fiction, its inherent artistry. This exquisite, terrifying novella is daunting and magnificent, a book that celebrates storytelling as the truest way towards understanding existence. -
Eileen Battersby

If you pick up a copy of this book you realise how small it is. You'll know, of course, that pockets hardly exist that are normally big enough to hold what we used to call a pocket book, but here is the exception to prove the rule. It's wee. The story is on a hundred pages. The concision is partly down to it starting after the beginning, for we first meet Big and Small, two brothers, once they're stuck down a large well in the middle of a forest. Tasked with a family errand, they're trapped at the bottom of a natural Erlenmeyer flask, and even a desperate move cannot get either out. This is the story of the next three months in their existence, as they brave hunger, delirium, loss of language, and the brute and unstinting human selfishness needed for existence.
This is one of those weird, fantastical situations, grounded in a heartily real psychology, that can be read as straight literature – it is a fascinating circumstance, in and of itself. But we can guess it and its author have an ulterior motive, and if we couldn't guess that then two political quotes on the forepages remove all doubt. This is an allegory of the human condition – the impracticality of the levelling up that the socialists seek, the level playing field that would make all survive on an equal footing. Not for nothing are the brothers – one assumes one is mid-teens, the other on the cusp of pubescence in my mind – called Big and Small. Such simple words are heavily loaded in this situation.
The whole plays out like a fully metaphysical 127 Hours, with the nightmarish settlement of two people trapped unnaturally in nature. Just like that there's a sterling sense of dread, an engagement with the non-physical world (when they play I Spy… one is told to pick none of those abstract words. Only things that can be seen), and even though this is fiction, a there-but-for-the-grace-of-God feel. Yet the book does want us to think that we are there, that in some instance we are either Big or Small. One of them envisages humanity in cages, and in what he says the book breaks away from its timeless, geography-less aspects, and becomes grounded in some kind of modern human world.
In the end I think I sought less of that that removed me from the other-worldly existence down the well, or perhaps more of the clear fable. The book fit too well on its own fence, taking a middle ground, being too overt here yet too unclear as to its meaning there. But it certainly held a basic tenet, a simple 'what if?' idea and a rich literary content, for every second of its reading, and that basic circumstance will leave me with memories, both big and small, for many a long time. - John Lloyd




The Boy Who Stole Attila’s Horse, Iván Repila’s second novel and his first to appear in English, is short, sharp and blackly humorous. The premise is simple: two brothers are stuck down a well. One is Big, the other is Small. They are trapped seven meters below the earth, somewhere in the middle of a forest. We aren’t told how they got there, whether they fell or they were pushed, only that this is now the reality they face. They have a bag of food, some fruit and cheese they were bringing home to their mother, but they don’t eat it. Instead, they eat bugs, maggots, whatever roots they can find in the dirt at the bottom of the well. They drink dirty water, and “everything tastes like dirt.” Wolves appear around the edge of the well at night, sniffing for blood.
The book progresses linearly, each short chapter occurring a little further into their ordeal, each chapter title a prime number which corresponds to the number of days the brothers have spent in the well. Days are filled with activity; Big exercises, honing particular muscles, keeping his strength up, while Small searches for food until he is too weak to do so. The nights are quieter but darker too, home to fever dreams and insomniac visions, suicide attempts and self-internment. The brothers’ most intimate moments often come at night, flashes of a sincere fraternal bond, but they usually appear as the result of a particular ordeal, the drained, emotional climax to an acute suffering.
And what suffering there is. Repila appears to take a viciously sweet pleasure in the slow, painful degradation of the brothers’ bodies, and Sophie Hughes’ translation renders it with a brutal force. Their second attempt at escape is a suitably disastrous example. It is their second day in the well, and they know that simply standing on each other’s shoulders is not going to get them out. Big decides to throw Small out of the well, grasping him by the arms and spinning round and round as he works up speed. Every rotation is elaborated upon during a single, page-long sentence and the anticipation grows. Small already knows what’s coming. Upon release, he “smashes, literally smashes” headfirst into the hard, clay wall of the well with “a dull crunch”. He leaves the impression of his body in the wall, and a few teeth, before landing on the dizzy body of his brother, “like a circus act that ends in a bundle of piled up flesh, and no applause.”
The impact of this final simile is cataclysmic; it concludes the sprawling sentence with all the graceful, witty panache denied its protagonists. Reading it, you become aware of the rhythms that have preceded it, and it is the first example of the delicate balancing act Repila performs throughout the book. The physical torture the brothers endure, with Small suffering in particular, has to be meted out carefully. Too much and the story becomes tediously gruesome, too little and the characters become disembodied, floating through their imprisonment. We have to be reminded of their physical toil, but there must also be a bit of humor along with it, a spot of tenderness amid the violence. They might be pissing blood and succumbing to all sorts of afflictions of the skin, but they’re also playing “osteo-vegetable music” on their bones for laughs. The push-and-pull is essential. “Small goes on dying for days, and his brother goes on keeping him alive. As if they were playing.” This is Repila’s game, and he’s good at it.
For all the brothers’ bodily torment, their mental well-being faces even greater challenges. As the days pass in the well, both become prone to flights of fancy, trances, visions. Some are mere escape fantasies, while others descend into spirals of violence and rage. The most heart-breaking are those during which the dreamer appears to have lost all touch with the reality of the well, when their unstoppable imaginations have taken them beyond their own experience into bottomless pits of nightmarish insanity. While Small is unconscious with fever, Big imagines all the things he might tell him if he were awake, devising lessons about the world, elucidating everything from maths and physics to botany and cooking, telling tales of their grandparents, moons, lakes; “of houses with eyes where the windows should be, and which weep tears of wine when their owners leave.” The sweetness of the intent runs unstoppably into the unhinged digressions of a trapped and lonely mind.
Again, Small is the more tortured of the two. As Big admits, Small is the more “self-absorbed” of the pair, and he envies him “all the shades of grey his world seemed to contain.” These shades of grey, this ability to think in abstractions, is ultimately the greatest source of pain for Small. When he loses his mind, he really loses it. He imagines turning the well into a “blood mill” to better grind the bones of his brother, a team of oxen turning his brother into a sacrifice to be offered to the gods in hope of rain. One of his delusions gives the book its title; he steals the titular horse to make shoes from its hooves. His feet and the hooves seem to become almost one, a black hide that “smelled like the shell of a dragon’s egg, or like the skull of an idol.” Whenever he walks over the same ground twice, it turns black. If he walks on a person, they die; “Their bodies turned brown and red. It looked like a poor man’s rainbow: lustreless, born out of a candle and a puddle of urine.” He feels important, he says, “like a painter.”
This is not Small’s only reference to art and creativity, though it is perhaps the most damning. Deep in a fever, he says he will in future carry pens and paper around with him at all times, because they are “tools that will allow him to attest for all time the miracles of his enlightenment. To translate the unpronounceable.” He plays music, he acts in farcical plays and curates mini exhibitions at “The Well Space,” an imagined arts center at the bottom of the well. In one of his worst moments, which is also one of his funniest, Small loses language itself. He begins to speak in gibberish, and becomes angry as Big laughs in his face, uncomprehending. “Raturl! Filiff doan gon huturl! Gon huturl dop unterme!” he shouts. “FOTON DUCRUZZER!”
This breakdown, and the slow, pathetic rebuilding of his lexicon, is perhaps the pivotal point in Small’s transition from a base stability sometimes rocked by feverish patches of insanity, to an altogether deeper, more lasting madness. After this, there is almost a calm about him, a stillness laced with dread. His madness now is cool, sharp. He has a clear-minded conversation with himself about escape from the well, a prophetic splitting of some internal atom. He sees with the clarity of the blessed, he is a man on a divine mission; to leave his mark on the world, to be remembered, to take the unbearable loss of his childhood and turn it into a revolutionary truth, an all-conquering justice. He wants to regain the earth, to have his say. Muttering to himself in the dark of the well, Repila gives it to him, igniting his prose with an almost religious fervor, a demonic possession.
It is no great leap to see Small’s story as that of an artist in an uncaring world, stymied by the dark and unforgiving walls of capitalism, kept in a cage and forgotten. But the story succeeds because, while possibly allegorical, it is neither parable nor fable. All the book’s shadows never collapse into an easily circumscribed moral imperative; never does a clear target make itself known. It is more about the sensation of oppression, of deprivation, than the ostensible causes of those sensations. Capitalism, climate change, war, the plight of the artist in modernity —- the book could be about any or all of them, but it thankfully never feels like it when you’re reading.
The story’s final confrontation shows Mother’s bag of fruit still intact, though rotted beyond recognizability. Small wields it as a weapon, as a sign of how the brothers “overcame every urge.” This is the method of their triumph — to repress desire, to stay disciplined, to never surrender — but it is also its cost. Big’s strenuous exercise regime has warped his muscles and disfigured his body. Small’s mental state is irreparably damaged; he is barely more than a gibbering wreck, a survivor of multiple suicide attempts. Their young lives are essentially lost to the challenge of survival, their minds and bodies rotted by the toll of their repression.
They never succumb to desire, but the effort breaks them. They become mercurial, inhumane. They become almost saints, more idols than living creatures, and here you sense Repila’s attraction to such a figure, as well as the danger he surely knows is latent in them. Just because a messiah might be the galvanizing, inspirational force necessary to overcome the roots of oppression — capitalism, war, art — it doesn’t mean one shouldn’t fear the destruction that will inevitably come in their wake. They are a certain type of madness, beautiful and terrifying. Such a figure inspires both desire and repulsion, hunger and disgust; words that might well describe the feeling of reading this book.
In the story’s final moments, when Small stalks the land like the painter he imagined and a faceless mob rises around him — frightened, sickened, fascinated by the eyes in which “it is still possible to see the well” — Repila moves again into that mad, semi-religious tone, that language of icons and saints, of fire and brimstone, and in the darkness shows us the sparks of an era to come, the first flames and the long shadows of an awesome and terrible insurrection, a revolutionary plague; inspired by madness, and so madness become. - Ian Maleney


The Boy Who Stole Attila's Horse begins with two brothers, known only as Big and Small, finding themselves at the bottom of a well. It is only seven metres deep but practically impossible to escape; its location is far enough off any beaten paths that their cries for help go unheard and they remain undiscovered; other than a pack of wolves, no one comes and peers in. Almost the entire novel is set in the well, the chapters not sequentially numbered, but referring to how many days they've spent trapped: 2, 3, 5, 7, 11, etc.
       While the allegorical elements and overtones are never absent, The Boy Who Stole Attila's Horse is also fairly realistic. The boys survive on the food they can gather at the bottom of the well -- insects, worms, and the like -- and especially the younger one practically wastes away. At times they are desperately short of water.
       There are any number of questions -- about their situation, their identity -- but Repila leaves most of them open; possible answers and explanations are hinted at, but little is spelled out. And the novel doesn't need them to be -- as Repila reminds the reader:
     Small asks unnecessary questions:
     'Why are we here ?'
     'Is this the real world ?'
     'Are we really children ?'
     Big never answers.

       The well is a prison, an isolation chamber, an exile. And also:
This well is a uterus, you and I are yet to be born, our cries are the agonies of the world's birth.
       Hunger -- starvation -- is the greatest physical issue they face, yet they have a bag of their mother's food supplies with them, containing: "a loaf of bread, some dried tomatoes, a few figs and a wedge of cheese". But the bag is inviolable: "The food in the bag is for Mother", the older brother insists, and regardless of how desperate they are it is to remain untouched. Big insists:
The bag isn't the solution, If you mention it again, I'll hold your head in the dirt until I kill you.
       Only in the story's conclusion is this seemingly unnecessary act of self-deprivation thrown in an entirely different light, but already here and elsewhere there are hints that things are not entirely as they might seem. That the circumstances surrounding their being in the well are not entirely benign. So also, for example, early on already Big imagines their escape:
     'Once we're up there, we'll throw a party.'
     'A party ?'
     'Yes.'
     'The kind with balloons and lights and cakes ?'
     'No. The kind with rocks, torches and gallows.'

       The torture they endure is both physical and mental; in both regards Small suffers far more. Big takes the lion's share of their limited food and exercises as much as he can -- building up muscle bulk, if not any stamina -- while Small practically shrivels. Small dreams more vividly, and hallucinates; at one point he is struck by aphasia and can no longer communicate properly.
       The Boy Who Stole Attila's Horse is a novel about being imprisoned, in one form or another, and late in the book Small posits: "Lock up any man in a cage" and:
In the majority of cases the end result will be a shell of a man, reduced to guilt, bent to the shape of the cage.
       Even in its isolated setting, the novel is one of power-dynamics, the older, stronger Big imposing his will on Small (while ultimately also sacrificing himself for his brother). But Repila suggests there's far more to it, beginning with the novel's epigraphs, from Margaret Thatcher and Bertolt Brecht -- contrasts in capitalism, pro and contra -- to the story behind the title. The Boy Who Stole Attila's Horse clearly (if, fortunately, not spelled-out-obviously) is a social novel that arose out of the situation in Spain and the consequences of the recent financial crisis, and takes issue with the way things are and have been.
       The conclusion clarifies much about Repila's intentions and meanings, and far from diminishing any of what came before in fact intensifies the impact. The Boy Who Stole Attila's Horse is a novel of the struggle of the individual -- and (as well as in) both community (such as family -- even when it is only the two brothers) and society. It is beautifully written. Much of what is presented is also very dark and raw, but it is also a hopeful novel -- angrily, almost furiously hopeful, but nevertheless.
       A very fine small work -- and one very much of and for our times. - M.A.Orthofer





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