BookBrowse Reviews Dog Boy by Eva Hornung

Summary |  Excerpt |  Reviews |  Beyond the book |  Readalikes |  Genres & Themes |  Author Bio

Dog Boy

A Novel

by Eva Hornung

Dog Boy by Eva Hornung X
Dog Boy by Eva Hornung
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

  • Published:
    Mar 2010, 304 pages

  • Rate this book

Book Reviewed by:
Elena Spagnolie

Buy This Book

About this Book



A novel about an abandoned 4-year-old boy who takes up with a pack of dogs in Moscow

The relationship between the nature of the beast and the nature of man is certainly not new to the world of literature. From the ancient mythology of Rome's founding brothers Romulus and Remus, to the adventures of Mowgli in Rudyard Kipling's The Jungle Book and the keen animal perspective in Jack London's classics The Call of the Wild and White Fang, both positive and negative aspects of human nature have been called into question with fascinating imagination.

In her most recent novel, Dog Boy, Eva Hornung rekindles our curiosity with the subject and tells the story of Romochka, a four-year-old boy who is abandoned by both his mother and uncle in the wake of great economic upheaval in Russia in the late 1990's. She effectively grabs the reader's attention with the opening scene in which Romochka sits quietly on the bed and stares at the front door, waiting for it to open, waiting for his family to rescue him from the increasing cold and darkness that closes in around him… but no one comes. There is an eerie, apocalyptic feel to Romochka's situation, and the way he wavers between following his absent mother's advice (Don't talk to strangers... You die if you eat food out of smashed glass...) 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. And while Hornung does give readers technical and even logical reasons for why everything happens in the novel, there isn't a thorough enough exploration of the complexity of human emotion that results from our actions. Consequently, Romochka's character (along with other human personalities in the novel) feels over-simplified, his role overly prepared to serve a predetermined purpose in the novel, as opposed to being an organic, complex and emotionally honest being. This produces a slight mistrust between the narrator and the reader and limits the book's ability to explore the nature of humanity (what is inherent, what is learned, what is civilized, what is savage) to its fullest extent. In this way, the philosophical questions concerning human nature that direct the third section of the novel, though absolutely interesting, do not connect with readers as well as they might have.

Nonetheless, Dog Boy finds its strength in Hornung's attention to descriptive detail, and images such as the "frozen puddles here and there [that give] a dull gleam, wrinkled like the eyes of dead fish" or Romochka's tiny thumb that had at one point been sucked to "its perfect shape" or the intricate knowledge of Moscow's metro system stay with the reader and create bursts of literary delight. In particular, the deep affection depicted between Romochka and his canine family is created in the nuzzles, growls and subtle animal behaviors that humans often overlook.

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

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

This review is available to non-members for a limited time. For full access, become a member today.
Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" backstories
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year
  • More about membership!

Editor's Choice

  • Book Jacket: The Overstory
    The Overstory
    by Richard Powers
    Many glowing adjectives can be used to describe a novel by Richard Powers: brilliant, moving, ...
  • Book Jacket: American Histories
    American Histories
    by John E. Wideman
    In American Histories, a collection of 21 short stories, John Edgar Wideman draws America's present ...
  • Book Jacket: I Found My Tribe
    I Found My Tribe
    by Ruth Fitzmaurice
    Ruth O'Neill was only 28 when she married film director Simon Fitzmaurice in 2004. Changing her...
  • Book Jacket: The Art of the Wasted Day
    The Art of the Wasted Day
    by Patricia Hampl
    Patricia Hampl wants you to know that daydreaming is not a waste of a day. Nor is spending time ...

Book Discussion
Book Jacket
Music of the Ghosts by Vaddey Ratner

A love story for things lost and restored, a lyrical hymn to the power of forgiveness.

About the book
Join the discussion!

Readers Recommend

  • Book Jacket

    The Girl Who Smiled Beads
    by Clemantine Wamariya & Elizabeth Weil

    A riveting story of survival, and the power of stories to save us.
    Reader Reviews

Win this book!
Win The Leavers

The Leavers by Lisa Ko

One of the most anticipated books of 2017--now in paperback!


Word Play

Solve this clue:

T E H N Clothes

and be entered to win..

Books that     

 & enlighten

Visitors can view some of BookBrowse for free. Full access is for members only.

Join Today!

Your guide toexceptional          books

BookBrowse seeks out and recommends books that we believe to be best in class. Books that will whisk you to faraway places and times, that will expand your mind and challenge you -- the kinds of books you just can't wait to tell your friends about.