A young Englishwoman takes on the world's longest and most difficult horse race.
In 2013, Prior-Palmer came across a photograph of the Mongol Derby: "long-maned ponies streaming over green steppes, space poured wild and free—in Mongolia." The deadline was fast approaching, and the race's organizer gave her a discount to help defray the costly entry fee. The Derby, a "truly peculiar invention," is a seven-day, 1,000-kilometer race on 25 wild Mongolian ponies, descendants, writes the author, of "Genghis Khan's famed Takhi horses, the ones that shouldered his empire's postal system from the thirteenth century onwards." Every 40 kilometers, at stations called urtuus, tired horses are replaced with new ones; riders rest, eat, and use the toilets (holes in the ground). Each of the competitors has a rough map of the course, a not-always-reliable GPS device, and "nylon endurance saddles." In this feisty and exhilarating debut memoir, Prior-Palmer smoothly recounts what happened over her momentous week in August. Right at the start, she fell behind: "Where to go? I was hoping to follow someone….I can see only sun." Over the next seven days, she fought aching bruises, torrential rain, brutal heat, and a rough fall. She continuously scoured the vast horizon for "hamster cities," the holes of which could seriously injure a horse, and she dodged herds of nibbling goats while the horses dealt with Mongolian families' nipping dogs. The author personalizes the horses with names: Brolly, Dunwoody and "7." As she raced, carrying a copy of Shakespeare's The Tempest, she channeled her Aunt Lucinda, "my go-to ahead of any equestrian event," to help her get through each arduous day. After the apparent winner was penalized for overheating her horse, the author, who was second, was declared the winner—the youngest ever and the first woman.
Although the narrative occasionally veers off course, horse lovers will adore this inspiring and spirited memoir.
Praise for Rough Magic
Winner of the Steppes Travel Adventure Travel Book of the Year Award
One of Esquire's Best Nonfiction Books of 2019
"If you like your memoirs to revolve around singular experiences, Lara Prior-Palmer’s Rough Magic delivers." John Williams, The New York Times
“This is no fresh-forged mythic hero, but rather a young woman who’s still doubting, still equivocating about her right to seek greatness . . . As Prior-Palmer senses on her journey, reconciling the wisdom of the everyday with the instinct for timelessness and mythmaking is a life’s workwork to which Rough Magic is an engaging guide." Ellie Robbins, The Washington Post
"Page by page, Prior-Palmer tunes us in, slows us down to her speed, to pony paces, and we begin to attend to the present moment just as she does . . . At every turn, Prior-Palmer's writing is brilliant and clear-eyed and demonstrates more wisdom than any philosopher's theories . . . Presenting such an awe-inspiring page-turning narrative that plumbs the depths of all that's to be found in the present momentthe body, mind, and soulwhile dissembling one's own ego with tender rigor is Rough Magic's finest achievement. Lara Prior-Palmer is a writer to watch." Abby Travis, San Francisco Chronicle
"Excellent prose and rigorous honesty . . . An unusual pleasure to read . . . Prior-Palmer writes with a dash and boldness few writers possess; her language seems sui generis . . . Her narrative alchemy is remarkable; in every chapter, she turns boredom to suspense and back again. The Derby is at once heart-stoppingly close and a miserable slog to which we already know the ending. That shiftingheroism to comedy, glamour to stinking holes in the groundcreates a tension far more interesting than the question of who's going to win the race, or how." Lily Meyer, NPR
"[Prior-Palmer's] prose is poetic, and while the race and Mongolian landscape are conjured beautifully and intensely, the book’s emotional impact lies in the nuanced portrait of its subject searching for answers beyond the life she’s lived so far." David Canfield, Entertainment Weekly
"In this sensual, spiritual memoir, Prior-Palmer recounts her grueling journey through immense physical hardship, and her surprising transformation from underdog to champion." Adrienne Westenfeld, Esquire
"Charming, self-aware, and mercifully devoid of clichés, it's just the sort of breezy travel memoir we've been looking for." Lale Arikoglu, Condé Nast Traveler
"We are all lucky she did write it, because it's the rare read that offers what Rough Magic does: a type of pure exhilaration, the kind that snakes through your body in moments both still and hurried. Reading it is a visceral, sensorially charged experience; a, yes, rough and magical ride through one of the planet's most desolate landscapes, and into the mind of a young woman whose fearlessness and curiosity take herand usto countless unexpected places." Kristin Iversen, NYLON
"A gripping, self-searching, triumphant debut memoir . . . The winning vulnerability on display . . . throughout this exceptional coming-of-age tale keeps the pages turning and the reader rooting for this unlikely heroine . . . A breathtaking ride." Kathleen Rooney, Star-Tribune (Minneapolis)
"First-time author Prior-Palmer transforms from hopeless 19-year-old underdog into surprising champion of the grueling 2013 Mongol Derby in this exhilarating, visceral account of her attempt to win a 1,000-kilometer horse race across the Mongolian countryside . . . Filled with soulful self-reflection and race detail, this fast-paced page-turner is a thrill ride from start to finish." Publishers Weekly (starred review)
In this debut, Prior-Palmer describes her journey to participating in the Mongol Derby—being the first woman to win the race and the youngest person ever to finish. The race is 1,000 kilometers across the steppe of Mongolia, on a series of 25 semiwild ponies over the course of ten days, a re-creation of the horse messenger system established by Genghis Khan. With some riding experience but no training at endurance events, 19-year-old Prior-Palmer entered the race on a whim. Using a fresh, irreverent voice and a quick wit, she tugs readers along on her ill-equipped adventure: over rough terrain and experiencing bruising falls, terrifying storms, and bouts of illness and dehydration. It's a story worthy of the best adventure writers, and Prior-Palmer does not disappoint. VERDICT An appealing account that will capture the imagination of a wide audience, including young adults. Readers who enjoyed Cheryl Strayed's Wild and James Campbell's Braving It will want to join Prior-Palmer on her once-in-a-lifetime trek.—Susan Belsky, Oshkosh P.L., WI