A vivid, riveting novel about an abandoned boy who takes up with a pack of feral dogs in late 20th century Moscow.
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.
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 ...
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).
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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