Beyond the Book: Background information when reading Dog Boy

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Dog Boy

A Novel

by Eva Hornung

Dog Boy by Eva Hornung
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  • Published:
    Mar 2010, 304 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Elena Spagnolie

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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 him; befriended him; and, finally, took him on as their pack leader."

It wasn't until 2004 that Hornung read an article about Mishukov but, as she recalls in a short essay about her experience writing Dog Boy, it "took me by storm… [I] immediately began wondering about the cold winters, and what it would take to survive with dogs... In Australia we have a bush phrase - a two dog night - which is a night cold enough to need two dogs with you in the swag. I imagined Ivan's winter darkness as the unimaginable ten or twelve dog night."

Though he maintained his use of language, Ivan became a real-life embodiment of the feral child mythology, that is, he became a potential answer to the question: What might humans be like if removed from society and brought back to "a state before history?" (Newton). His rescue in 1998 took him away from the dogs and, "howling with anguish at being separated from his extraordinary 'family,'" the officials brought him to the Reutov children's shelter for a short period before he started school. According to an article in The Observer in 1998, Ivan claims that, "I was better off with the dogs. They loved and protected me."

After hearing his story, Eva Hornung began her research on homelessness in Moscow, on feral dogs and on the devastating effects of perestroika on millions of people, which led her to study Russian language for nine months and ultimately to travel to Moscow in 2006. She explains, "…Romochka was born whole and I had to write - not Ivan's story, but something that could tease out all the ideas that sprang from this vignette of a human being."

Article by Elena Spagnolie

This article is from the May 5, 2010 issue of BookBrowse Recommends. Click here to go to this issue.

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