The Dog Doesn’t Die

Book reviews & random thoughts

Does the Dog Die? A Brief Review of Dreamers of the Day, by Mary Doria Russell

Born in the 1880s, Agnes Shanklin thought she was going to be a pale shadow of a person, living with constant nagging from her mother, having no chance of realizing her dreams, envying her younger sister’s freedom and, for a time, that of her brother. Then the Spanish flu hit, leaving Agnes as the only surviving member of her family — a survivor with an unexpected fortune. Following an uplifting visit to a fancy department store, Agnes decides to visit Egypt. Accompanied by Rosie, the long-haired daschund she’d saved as a puppy, Agnes arrives just as T.E. Lawrence (aka Lawrence of Arabia), Winston Churchill, and Gertrude Bell have completed the task of drawing the boundaries of the modern Middle East.

Lawrence, Bell, and Churchill aren’t minor characters in Russell’s thoughtful and sometimes amusing exploration of self-definition and self-discovery. Agnes has quite a lot of interaction with Lawrence, for example. I would have thought it difficult to use historical figures as significant characters to this extent, but Russell pulls it off.

Overall, I thought the book was excellent — Agnes is an endearing narrator, the pacing is good, and the characters are well-drawn. Sometimes it seemed a bit too much like a travelogue, and Churchill came across as a self-absorbed buffoon: possibly true, possibly not, but I’d not seen him presented like that before. These are quibbles, however. I loved this book, I’ll recommend it to my book group, and I recommend it to anyone else looking for a well-written, well-told story.

In terms of animals, this book is most definitely SAFE for animal lovers. Rosie is one of the main characters, and Agnes might not have met Lawrence and the others without her. As authors often do with animal characters, Russell uses Rosie to amp up the tension a few times, but ultimately the dog comes to no harm. There are a few cranky camels, and Lawrence shoves one to get it to behave, but this is a very animal-friendly book, and Rosie is one of the most vividly drawn animal characters I’ve seen in a long time.

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March 11, 2009 - Posted by | Book Reviews, dogs, history, travel | , , , , ,

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