Not everyone will get on with the writing style of what is very much a coming-of-age story of a somewhat privileged teenager, but the descriptions of Mongolia and riding across its vast landscapes (‘This seemed more of a space than a place, shapeless and free.’ … ‘A plain so vast it would be silly to carry on thinking we matter.’), Mongolia’s culture (‘Mongolian ballads known as long songs’ are said to translate the contours of the land into verse. If the steppe had a tongue, these might be her sounds.’) and her depictions of everyday life in Mongolia (‘If there is one piece of furniture crucial to imagining the Mongolian steppe, it’s the ‘ger’, meaning ‘home’ in Mongolian.’) make Rough Magic a worthwhile read.
‘We ride only geldings and stallions, the male ponies, because the mares around here are reserved for milking and breeding.’
‘Like any horse, he lacks speech and makes up for it with his strengthened sensitivity to the unseen.’ … ‘Horse’s eyes miss nothing. The slightest crinkle of our rain jackets, and they’ll shudder, spook and ping away.’
‘In Mongolia, there are, apparently, more love songs about horses than about women. Ponies who come last in races are sung commiseratoin songs because no one wants them to feel bad. There’s a sense of in which your horse is an extension of you. A Mongol without a horse is like a bird without wings – so goes the proverb. Even horses’ skulls are sacred. They’re made into musical instruments, whose sounds comfort mourning souls.’
‘Temul. It’s the Mongolian word for the look in the eye of a horse charging down its own undrawn route.’
‘Beyond the capital city, facilities in the local towns are dilapidated shells of another life.’
‘Apparently the Soviets introduced the soums in an attempt to settle the nomads but had minimal success. Families tend to leave the soums for gers out on the steppe in summer and some live out all year round. Now, in August, it feels as if a flood has swept through and carried life away.’