________________ CM . . . . Volume XIV Number 8 . . . . December 7, 2007


Old Dog.

Teresa Cárdenas. Translated by David Unger.
Toronto, ON: Groundwood/House of Anansi, 2007.
101 pp., pbk. & hc., $9.95 (pbk.), $18.95 (hc.).
ISBN 978-0-88899-836-1 (pbk.), ISBN 978-0-88899-757-9 (hc.).

Grades 7 and up / Ages 12 and up.

Review by Janice Foster.

**½ /4


The path seemed to be lengthening, however, and delaying his return even more. He was afraid to be caught running away as had happened to Cumba,Coco, Carabali, and many others. Perro Viejo recalled the nights he had been chained , the smell of blood and death.  The smell of his own fear.

Although 2007 marks the British Empire’s bicentenary of the abolition of slavery, slavery was not abolished in Cuba until 1886. Cuba continued to be a key destination for the slave trade in order to support the sugar cane plantations. The novel Old Dog provides its readers with a realistic account from the perspective of an old, feeble black Cuban slave, Perro Viejo or Old Dog. The narrative constantly refers to Perro Viejo’s memories of his 70 years as a slave on the plantation. Through these memories, the reader glimpses the horror and despair of the slave. Not only had Perro Viejo lost his mother at birth, but throughout his life of servitude, he continuously experienced the loss of those close to him through the brutality of the owners and their friends. The devaluing of life because of race calls attention to the inhumanity of those who supported slavery. The author’s portrayal of Old Dog allows the reader to understand his reluctance to love or care about others. When faced with the possibility of an escape to freedom, Perro Viejo discovers what it is to love and to feel free.

     Teresa Cárdenas is the recent winner of the Casa de las Américas Prize, Cuba's highest literary honour. Her skill as a storyteller is evident in the narrative style of Old Dog, a translation by David Unger of her novel Perro Viejo. The relatively short length of the novel and its readability in terms of both vocabulary and text format will appeal to reluctant young adult readers. Unfortunately, the cover’s limited appeal and the lack of action until the last few pages might cause young adult readers not to elect to choose this novel for personal reading. However, Old Dog would be a welcome addition to a reading list on black history or slavery. Its brevity and perspective lends itself to being a springboard for discussion.


Janice Foster is a teacher librarian at Henry G. Izatt Middle School in Winnipeg, MB.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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