Summary and book reviews of Dog Boy by Eva Hornung

Dog Boy

A Novel

By Eva Hornung

Dog Boy
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  • Hardcover: Mar 2010,
    304 pages.

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Book Reviewed by:
Elena Spagnolie

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Book Summary

Two million children roam the streets in late twentieth-century Moscow. A four-year-old boy named Romochka, abandoned by his mother and uncle, is left to fend for himself. Curious, he follows a stray dog to its home in an abandoned church cellar on the city's outskirts. Romochka makes himself at home with Mamochka, the mother of the pack, and six other dogs as he slowly abandons his human attributes to survive two fiercely cold winters. Able to pass as either boy or dog, Romochka develops his own moral code. As the pack starts to prey on people for food with Romochka's help, he attracts the attention of local police and scientists. His future, and the pack's, will depend on his ability to remain free, but the outside world begins to close in on him as the novel reaches its gripping conclusion.

In this taut and emotionally convincing narrative, Eva Hornung explores universal themes of the human condition: the importance of home, what it means to belong to a family, the consequences of exclusion, and what our animal nature can teach us about survival.

Excerpt
Dog Boy

They passed throngs of people who were making their way home or to shops after work but no one stopped the boy or asked his name. He was a boy; his companions dogs. There was nothing to show that he was following, not leading. They looked like three obedient dogs, and he like a boy master — neglected, young to be out alone, but everyone knows without thinking that a person with dogs is not lost.

Three dogs and a boy passed through the populated thoroughfares of the precinct to more deserted lanes. Gates and mesh fences sagged, street walls crumbled. In the distance, apartment blocks were stacked like dishes in a rack, their windows glittering. Close up, weeds filled all gaps. They passed by low buildings with no balconies: offices and warehouses and factory sheds. They passed rows of identical five-storey tenements with cracked tiled facades and a few unkempt birches in the raked yards. They breathed in the smell of cooking onions and cabbage. Inside, people were ...

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Reviews

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There is an eerie, apocalyptic feel to Romochka's situation, and the way he wavers between following his absent mother's advice... and doing what he needs to survive creates a vulnerable uncertainty in his character that is truly intriguing. However, as the novel develops, Romochka's conscious thoughts and feelings, which are supplied by the omniscient narrator, often seem too self-aware and deliberate for a four-year-old in such a situation... This produces a slight mistrust between the narrator and the reader and limits the book's ability to explore the nature of humanity... to its fullest extent. Nonetheless, Dog Boy finds its strength in Hornung's attention to descriptive detail... [and] the ending of the novel is strong as well; Hornung delicately weaves a thread of modernity (and the complexities that it brings) into the age-old questions about human nature, and it seems a shame that the book ends shortly after it hits its stride.   (Reviewed by Elena Spagnolie).

Full Review Members Only (956 words).

Media Reviews
The Times (UK)

A modern Jungle Book - a harsh look at human pack behavior.

USA Today

Eva Hornung treads the well-worn theme of feral children using careful, sparse detail to illustrate Ramochka's wide-eyed innocence. Her spell breaks when the point of view suddenly switches... but otherwise, this is a wonderfully written, haunting read.

Publishers Weekly

In [Hornung's] hands, this engrossing story becomes both an investigation into humanity and a vivid portrait of one of Russia’s millions of lost children.

Library Journal

This intense and moving exploration of what it means to be human and what it means to be animal will appeal to most readers.

The Daily Telegraph (UK)

[Romochka's] attempts to please the dogs are touching, imparted to us in a somber, precise language ... This is an involving, careful book, marked out by a rare sympathy for the natural world.

The Guardian (UK)

A wonderful novel, a tour de force, even...Prize-winning Australian author Eva Hornung opens up a Pandora's box, full of questions about our humanity, our dealings with other creatures and our sense of what is normal...Hornung pulls no punches in talking about life on the streets, for dogs or for humans...Dog Boy creates, in Romochka, a touchingly complex and credible dog boy - cunning, tender, angry, wild, strangely beautiful - as well as a wholly convincing study of how a feral dog pack works...a novel that is not only very moving, but also morally and philosophically urgent in its core concerns.

Author Blurb Geraldine Brooks, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of March and People of the Book
Dog Boy is a tour de force of imaginative empathy. Eva Hornung is neither Russian nor canine but her deep engagement with languages, both human and animal, makes it possible for her to inhabit these utterly original characters on an almost molecular level. If The Story of Edgar Sawtelle convinced us that dogs have inner lives, Hornung reveals to us their very souls. This is a wonderful, intense and profoundly moving book from a writer of rare gifts."

Author Blurb Yann Martel, author of The Life of Pi
Extraordinary...utterly compelling...In exploring what it might be like to be a dog from a human perspective, Dog Boy sheds much light on what it is like to be human.

Author Blurb Donna Leon
This book will grab you by the throat and not let go...a subtle meditation on humanity and what it means to be human.

Reader Reviews
Roseann

A Boy Among Dogs
This tale of a boy raised by dogs follows the life of Romochka who at about six years of age leaves his home and follows a nursing mother dog back to her home. He is slowly accepted into the pack and lives a happy life for some time. However, after a...   Read More

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Beyond the Book

Ivan Mishukov
I was fascinated to learn that Eva Hornung's novel Dog Boy was inspired by the real-life story of Ivan Mishukov, a four-year-old boy who decided to run away from his mother and her alcoholic boyfriend in 1996 in Moscow, and ended up living with a pack of wild dogs for approximately two years before he was rescued. In the book Savage Girls and Wild Boys: A History of Feral Children, author Michael Newton describes:

"Dogs are abandoned with mournful regularity, and quickly turn feral, rummaging through bins for scraps, running around the streets in packs in order to survive. Out on the streets, Ivan began to beg, but gave a portion of the food he cadged each time to one particular pack of dogs. The dogs grew to trust...

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