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Book Review – ‘The Boy Who Stole Attila’s Horse’

The Boy Who Stole Attila’s HorseTitle: The Boy Who Stole Attila’s Horse
Author: Ivan Repila
Genre: Literary Fiction
Release Date: November 10th 2015
Rating: ★★★★

‘”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.” (Pushkin Press)

A novella that goes for a hundred and something pages that basically only has two characters, both of whom are stuck at the bottom of a well, probably doesn’t sound that exciting. And if that’s what you’re thinking, you’d be right, because it isn’t really exciting. What it is, is a thought provoking look at how people survive when the odds are stacked against them, as well as the cost that often comes with that survival.

The well could be viewed as a metaphor for just about any situation you can think of in which the human spirit, mind, and body are stretched to their breaking point. What I found most interesting was the fact that this particular story was told through two children. It is through them that we get to see the gradual disintegration of innocence as children move into adulthood, and society begins to to impress itself on pliable minds:

‘Your head’s still not right after the fever. Have something to eat and go to sleep. Tomorrow you’ll feel better,’ says Big, lying down.
Small doesn’t move.
‘I think I’ve got rabies,’ he says.
‘No. You don’t have rabies yet.’
Small looks at him lovelessly, and asks:
‘Then what is this anger I can feel inside?’
‘You’re becoming a man,’ says Big.

Despite some lighter moments it’s not at all a happy read, and at one point it was downright chilling. There are stacks of questions to be answered throughout as well, such as how did they get in the well in the first place? Will they get out? What is Big’s plan? Will Small’s mind be able to maintain a grip on reality?

Although the story and it’s characters are confined in the bottom of a hole, what it conveys goes well beyond that, so if you want a quick read that will get you thinking then you can’t go past The Boy Who Stole Attila’s Horse.

Many thanks to Pushkin Press and NetGalley for providing me with a review copy.




  1. Pingback: November Recap and December Reads | bitsnbooks

  2. You read so many interesting books – I can’t keep up! 🙂
    This actually sounds like something I would like, although I can only imagine how horrifying it might get. I have to ask, though, how does Attila’s horse come into it?


    • You can thank NetGalley for all the interesting books. Having access to that site has really widened my reading; I’ve got so many books from there that I might not have read otherwise.

      The title references a story that Small tells in the novel when his sanity is drifting. It’s actually a pretty horrible story, and really shows how far gone Small’s mind is.

      Liked by 1 person

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