CM . . .
. Volume XIX Number 18. . . .January 11, 2013
The Metro Dogs of Moscow.
Toronto, ON: Puffin, 2013.
195 pp., trade pbk., $12.99.
Grades 3-6 / Ages 8-11.
Review by Saeyong Kim.
Reviewed from Uncorrected and Unpublished Proofs.
He closed his eyes and tried to think of something, anything, to distract himself from doing another Very Bad Thing. But all he could think of was the muddy, matted stray racing down the street with a ring of sausage in his mouth and a look of pure joy in his eyes....
He paused only a second to consider what he'd done before racing off down the street, his tongue flopping in the almost-spring air. … His hind legs did a little dance. ...
He looked up to see a tall, skinny man in sunglasses and a black hat walking toward him, holding a cardboard box in one hand. A cardboard box that smelled like potatoes, cheese, and... JR sniffed and concentrated again. Bacon. ...JR looked from the man's hand to his face. There was something unsettling about not being able to see a human's eyes. You could tell so much just by looking into them.
But before JR could take a step back and study him, the man reached out, grabbed him by the scruff of his neck, and lifted him several feet off the ground. JR squealed and squirmed, but the man held fast. He smelled like onions and paint thinner…
JR, a Jack Russell terrier, belongs to "Globetrotting George" who works for the Canadian Embassy. JR is tired of always being on the move as George does not like staying in one place for a long time. He is also bored with the embassy dogs and their sheltered lifestyle. When the pair arrive in Moscow, JR at first compares the bustling city full of stray dogs unfavorably to Dublin which was greener and where he had been let off his leash often. The numerous stray dogs of the city, with their obvious dirtiness, their freedom and their scorn of the embassy dogs, simultaneously fascinate and repulse JR. One night, JR is able to explore the city on his own when he leaves George's rooms via an open window. He meets three stray dogs, Boris, Ania and Fyodor, and they befriend him. He learns that they are concerned because, lately, the stray dogs in Moscow have been disappearing. JR must solve the mystery of their disappearance while struggling to balance his friendship with the strays, his position among the embassy dogs and his relationship with his owner, George, who has been smitten by his new girlfriend, Katerina.
It is only fair to state, at the beginning of this review, that I dislike anthropomorphism, and this is likely to have influenced both my reading of the book and the review which follows.
JR's thoughts and behavior seem to be an odd mixture of enthusiastic child, disgruntled teenager, and cynical adult. In his more ‘doggy' moments, such as when he first tastes the delicious Kroshka Kartoshka, or learns to use the metro system, he is engrossed in the sensations of the present, whether joyfully or fearfully. On the other hand, JR's snarky comments on George's many phobias, metrosexual lifestyle and ‘commitment issues' seem to belong to a much older (human) person, while his interactions with other dogs, whether embassy dogs or Moscow strays, are similar to those of the young teen who is trying to establish himself in a new, unfamiliar peer group. While the dogs sniff one another in greeting and display submissive or aggressive behavior, they also hold up a paw for silence, clear their throats before speaking and grind their teeth in frustration.
The story, itself, is well paced, and the depiction of Moscow from a dog's point of view is lively and interesting. The plot is similar in format to the serial adventure story in which the recurring protagonist figure arrives in an unfamiliar location, befriends the locals while experiencing some of the culture, and solves a mystery or otherwise has an adventure before a satisfying conclusion of the tale. The writing is humorous and energetic, including many sensory details such as sight and smell. The descriptions of the metro stations, both their appearance and the hectic hustle and bustle of the humans within, are especially vivid. The varied references to embassy life, Russian culture, and such issues as animal rights, the responsibility of pet owners and art as a commentary on the human condition, are made skillfully so as to be interesting while not interrupting the flow of the tale. Depending on the reader, the references may be intriguing enough to encourage research and discussion of the issues referred to in the story.
The Metro Dogs of Moscow is an enjoyable read, especially for those who like dogs, and it unexpectedly contains a great many points for further investigation and deeper discussion.
Saeyong Kim is studying for a Master of Arts in Children's Literature at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, BC.
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