Dog Boy by Eva Hornung

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Courtesy Text Publishing
Dog Boy by
Eva Hornung was the winner of the 2010 Prime Minister’s Literary Award in the
fiction category, and deservedly so.
This extraordinary tale is
about a four-year-old boy named Romochka who is abandoned by his uncle in the
midst of a freezing Moscow winter and is left to fend for himself on the
streets. He joins a pack of feral dogs to survive.
Out of sheer starvation,
Romochka ventures out on the streets but no-one takes any notice of him and he
is afraid to approach strangers and does not ask for help, until he sees the
From the moment this novel
begins the reader is left asking the questions, how can humans be so cruel to
their own family? How can an uncle leave a small boy of four to survive through
a winter without any food or warmth? How can people not help a lost child?
When Romochka becomes lost
and desperate, it is the dogs that find him and persuade him to follow them
home to their lair. They offer him shelter, warmth, affection and food through
the mother-figure Mamochka, who suckles him along with her four other pups
through that first winter.
What follows is an amazing
story of Romochka’s transition into a dog boy. It is not an easy story to read as
Hornung holds nothing back in the detail of her writing and how it must be to live
with feral dogs.
The sheer desolation, grit
and filth of where they live, the putrid smells, the revolting food that is
taken from rubbish dumps or freshly-caught vermin they crunch between their
teeth is at times enough to make your stomach heave.
But this is also a story of
love and family, of belonging and hope, and challenges us as readers and humans
to question our society and the way humans treat each other.  It is a truly amazing book and highly
The Idea for Dog Boy
We have all heard stories of
children that have been raised by animals and it is one such story, of a boy
who lived with dogs in Moscow, that was the seed for Hornung’s story.  She has also drawn on the legendary myth of
Romulus and Remus who were suckled by wolves.
In an interview with Goodreading Magazine March 2009, Hornung
said that the “whole combination of the disintegration of a society, extreme
environmental conditions, and exploring the boundary between human and animal
is a pretty potent one, and one that really got me going.”
For Hornung to immerse
herself in the writing of the book, she studied Russian and travelled to
Moscow.  And she takes us with her in the
novel. We can see the streets, the Metro, feel the freezing snow, the winter
darkness and smell the desperation of the homeless and poor.
She obviously also spent a
lot of time researching the behaviour of dogs, in particular feral packs, and
makes us see how things are, or how things must be. Whether right or wrong the
book had me looking at my own dog in a different light.
About Eva Hornung
Eva Hornung has produces
books before under the name of Eva Sallis but has returned to her maiden name
for Dog Boy.  Previous works include the best-selling Hiam which won the 1997 Australian/Vogel Literary Award
and the 1999 Nita May Dobbie Literary Award. Other novels include The City of Sealions (2002), Mahjar (2003), Fire Fire
(2005) and The Marsh Birds (2006).
Dog Boy
(Text Publishing Melbourne, 2009, ISBN: 9781921520099, 290 pages.)
rating: ★★★★★

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