Book Review: Dog Boy by Eva Hornung

I finished reading Eva Hornung’s Dog Boy on 8-October. It’s been about a couple of months; I have read quite a few books, went on a three-day vacation, frequented hospitals to care for my parents, but Dog Boy is refusing to leaving me. I woke up at 5:45 this morning, with an image in my head — the dog boy was lying on his dog mum’s belly as the other puppies and dogs were also resting beside him, forming a canine circle. The image was a sign. I had to write about him.

Whispering Gums, whose blogs I adore, mentioned Dog Boy in one of her posts, and I knew the book was written for me. Forgive me for being presumptuous, but the book follows an abandoned boy adopted by a bitch, who becomes a part of her pack, later its alpha, is indeed a book that’s written for me, for I am incurably in love with animals, and it’s one of my important goals in life to read every book on animals. But Dog Boy is not an awww-inducing work on the antics of dogs or Hornung’s attempt at anthropomorphising them. It’s raw, feral just like the dog boy and the dogs.

Hiding inside his dog self insulated him to a degree from his own thoughts and feelings. He was a dog: words meant nothing. He was a dog: numb grief and wild joy were the boundaries within which all feeling was stretched.

Hornung offers a fly-on-the-wall view of Romochka’s life. She doesn’t tell us why he is abandoned — that doesn’t tarnish the story — but besides that loose thread, she includes me quite intimately. I am a part of their pack. I feel their lair’s blinding darkness, the brutal Russian winters, the strange yet curious ways of canines. I eat what they find — a rat, a bird, and sometimes their own kinds.

While the four-year-old Romochka keeps his former life’s memories safe in some crevice of his heart, he feels belonged to the pack, and he doesn’t want to be any other way. Hornung’s narration teems with so much conviction that the account on Romochka’s gradual induction into the pack, although demands good degree of patience from me, is painfully delightful.

The institutions established by humankind will only become intimidated and piqued by a boy like Romochka, and that’s not good for the tight pack, is it? Romochka and the canines become the objects of humans’s curiosity, and that sadly jeopardises their clandestine lives. To my surprise, this is where I find myself rooting for the pack. As one of the characters observes, Romochka is safe with the canines.

The first part where the story shadows Romochka is a universe that’s not known to humans. It belongs to Romochka and his dog-mum and his dog-siblings. That fragile universe, in spite of being a part of this world, is tactfully suspended from it all the same. I find myself drifting back to that universe. While danger lurks in its corners, while life can break like an egg in an instant, that universe is beautiful in its uncertainties and oddities.

The part where their universe is invaded reveals a new perspective of Romochka’s world. Although it is necessary to look at his world through adults’s eyes, it can only be done by braving several stabs in the heart, for Romochka’s world with the dogs is achingly beautiful.

For me, the ending is perfect. Perhaps, I am still nursing a hangover because I want to keep following Romochka. I find myself wishing for the author to write a sequel. I don’t know if that might dilute the marvel I enjoyed in Dog Boy, but it’s still a wish.

Dog Boy is unarguably one of the best books I have read this year. One can’t say that it should be read by every animal lover. But it must be read to see how the line between humans and animals quietly blurs right in front of our eyes.

Now, I think of all the dogs, travelling in Moscow’s metros. I wonder if they are going back to their dog-people to share their prizes. Maybe a skull. A liver. A heart. Or a good lick.

It is a long autumn twilight. The hour between dog and wolf. Light and dark are mixed, fear mingled with possibility. Between dog and wolf, everything seems to hesitate, everything is neither, until the point when night, like a drawn-out exhalation, spreads over the city.

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