by Eva Hornung
This is the story of a young boy abandoned during a time of political upheaval in Moscow. Unlike hundreds of other street children who took to begging or living in gangs, Romochka was adopted by a pack of feral dogs. He survived the first harsh winter snuggled in the dog den under a derelict building, nestled among the mother dog's puppies and nursing with them. Being only four years old, Romochka readily took on many canine mannerisms, learning how to be a dog in order to communicate with and be part of the pack. But as he grew he found his role dissatisfying- he sensed the other dogs saw him as a weakling needing to be protected and provided for, with his poor sense of smell and blunt teeth. So Romochka began tapping into his human nature in order to prove himself. He used abilities for logic and planning to become a successful hunter, terrorizing other children in the streets and gradually working his way from acceptance in the pack to being their leader. As he got bolder and started exploring new territories, he became more and more interested in humans, feeling drawn to them despite his loyalty to the dogs. He also started to attract the attention of older, more dangerous street kids, local law enforcement, and finally of a group of scientists...
The story fascinated me, but it was also pretty unsettling at some points. The author has no qualms about describing the more brutal aspects of Romochka's life- eating dead rats, licking his companion's wounds, scavenging through trash, stinking to high heaven; his behavior to rival dogs and threatening humans could be very savage too. The story has quite a few twists that heighten its drama, and I was shocked at the very end. While to some readers the narrative switch when the story is told from the scientists' viewpoint might be a relief, I found it dull compared to the sensory richness when it was focused on Romochka and the dogs- unpleasant though it may have been. A book that really gets you thinking about human nature and the capacity we (and dogs) have for love, patience and compassion as well as hatred and cruelty.
I borrowed this book from the public library. I saw it on a list at someone's blog, but now can't remember where.
The book was based on a news story about a boy found living with dogs in Moscow. You can read two news pieces here and here and an article about the author's inspiration here.
Rating: 3/5 ........ 293 pages, 2009
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