Jul 19, 2010

Dog Boy

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

More opinions at:
Whispering Gums
Meg's Book Nook
Over the Fence
Mark Rossiter

12 comments:

Coffee and a Book Chick said...

I really enjoy shocking stories that make you think...but I'm not sure how I would feel about this one? I wonder if those scenes you described about eating rats and liking wounds would make me feel a little unsettled? Interesting story line, though!

Jeane said...

There are scenes worse that those bits I described. Just to let you know!

Coffee and a Book Chick said...

Hmm. I might think this is one that I won't be able to read -- don't get me wrong, I'm all about dark and disturbing (just reviewed Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn and that is twisted!), but this one doesn't seem like I would feel comfortable reading it. I may have to pass, and I hate doing that! :(

Zibilee said...

Oh wow! This sounds like a fascinating story, and although it is a bit graphic, I think I would really get a lot out of this book. Thanks for the incredible review. This one goes right on the list!

bermudaonion said...

I hope this isn't based on a true story! It does sound like it would make you think though.

Jenny said...

Oh, how odd. I dreamed last night that I read a review on your blog about a wild boy--like those books you reviewed a while ago about kids raised by wolves and whatnot. I had to read this review twice before I realized it wasn't a true story!

Jeane said...

I had to do a bit of digging, but I found a few news articles- apparently it was based on a true incident! I've added links at the end of my post, if you're interested.

Jenny- how crazy! I was thinking of those books about feral children, myself. I haven't read any lately (until now) but they've always fascinated me.

whisperinggums said...

Nice review - and interesting point re the narrative shift. As you have clearly seen from my review I liked this one a lot and am a little sorry it hasn't received as much attention as I think (ha!) it deserves. It was shortlisted for a few prizes, though, so that's a start! Thanks for the link!

Gavin said...

Wow, this one sounds fascinating. I am adding it to my list. I think many people are curious about the idea of feral children, who they are, how they got that way. Thanks for this review.

C.B. James said...

This does sound very good. Is it translated from Russian? I do believe I'm going to add it to my TBR list.

Jeane said...

I don't think it's been translated. The author is actually Australian! She traveled to Russia to learn more about the original incident and research for her story, though.

Holly (2 Kids and Tired) said...

What an interesting premise for a book. I'm sure it's a compelling, but difficult book to read.