The Dog in Us

4 Jan

The “child raised by wild animals” trope(the founding of Rome myth, Tarzan, Kipling’s Jungle Book) is, when employed with some thoughfulness, a rich screen against which to consider the notion of what makes us human. And additionally, in the right hands some insights in the ways of being for our mammalian planetary co-inhabitants. This line of thinking puts me in mind of Jim Harrison’s very sensible observation (this is my paraphrase) that most people seem to want their dogs to act like them when they (we) would benefit from being more like them.

Australian writer Eva Hornung’s novel Dog Boy (Viking), set in 1970’s Moscow, features four year old Romochka’s who is deserted by his mother and is in turn adopted by a pack of feral dogs. The story covers 2 years in which the young boy is transformed into the pack’s alpha. And as this happens we (the readers) gain insight into the meaning of canine gestures and motions and sounds and (I’m not quite clear how Hornung does this) , Romochka’s development into top dog feels plausible and dare I —natural?

Dog Boy is a richer and more complex story than what I have thumb-nailed —two doctor /scientists who work rehabilitating Moscow’s growing population of wild street children intervene and the pack’s mother finds a male infant and brings into him into the canine crew. Which provides an interesting counter weight to Romochka’s experience.

My Dog Skippy(which made a likeable movie) or Marley, this novel is not— its a skillful examination of the behavior of dogs, the dystopia of the former Soviet Union (in case you need to be reminded) and the challenges that this dogboy phenomenon offered to the two humans who were it closest observers.

Need I say also that Hornung is more than capable of fabricating this fascinating and darkly, original tale?

I guess I did.

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