Monday, April 1, 2013

The dogs of winter by Bobbie Pyron

Life was peaceful in the little village of Ruza for Mishka.  He lived with his mother and his Babushka Ina, and they loved, laughed, and told stories.  That all changed when Mishka was five and his Babushka died and his mother forgot to read stories, forgot to make enough for them to eat, and she forgot how important to her Mishka was.  It was a tough time for everyone, and then he arrived - the man who yelled at Mishka and made his mother cry.  Then one day his mother was gone and Mishka was taken to the city, far away from everything he had ever known.

Life on the streets was hard, even harder for a small boy who wouldn't cheat and steal like the other street kids, and even the kids who would help him quickly grew frustrated with him.  Feeling alone and lost, Mishka strikes up a friendship with the dogs that he sees wandering the streets, dogs that seem to accept him for who he is rather than wanting him to be someone else.  Over the months that follow, Mishka becomes part of the pack, helping them to find enough food in a harsh winter.  But the pack accepts him and protects him, giving him the affection and protection he should have received from his own family.  Life on the streets is not easy, but with his pack Mishka might just make it.

To go into too much detail in this review risks the chance of revealing too much about what makes this an absorbing and emotional read.  Mishka should have had a safe childhood, one where he was kept safe and loved by his family, but he grew up in a Russia that was struggling to keep its people safe and feed, a time when thousands of children became homeless - either because they were orphans or because they had no other choice.  Although this is based on a true story, there are liberties that have been taken, no doubt because the story of the real Ivan Mishukov is a little bit cloudy.  All I know for sure is that this is a beautifully written novel, one that takes a difficult story and drags you along through the highs and the lows of love, betrayal, loss, and grief. 

I read this book in an afternoon and found myself smiling, laughing, and crying in turn.  A powerful read that deserves more exposure than it has had, a wonderful coming of age story that is so powerful and unique that for the first time I can think of no other stories to recommend to read if you liked it to - the closest books of this "type" are the books about people working with assistance dogs, or who have had incredibly close relationships with other companion animals.

An incredible read that has left me wanting more from this author, it was deftly written with an incredible amount of sympathy and compassion, telling a story with no punches pulled and with the good and bad walking side by side until the story is done.

Reviewed by Brilla

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