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‘We need the literature of other countries to expand our
horizons and stimulate our ideas. Without it, we are not only
diminished, we are starved’
(The Times, Magnus Linklater 29/06/05)
A Dog's Life
by Christine Nostlinger
Age Range: 9-11
Although Dog is past retirement age and a widower with grown-up children, he wants to find something worthwhile to do. He’s had a long life but not much experience, so he decides to leave home and go out into the wide world – perhaps he can make himself useful; perhaps there are people that need him. Dog sells his home (to a donkey) and leaves with a red case in his right forepaw, a blue travelling case in his left forepaw, wearing a black fedora hat, striped scarf wound round his neck three times and a big green pouch tied round his waist.
On his travels he becomes an actor, bouncer, teacher and even foster-parent to thirty kittens. Along the way he meets a variety of characters including the Gambling Pig, the headmaster Bear, Tom Cat and the widow Olga.
Dog is incredibly kind-hearted and generous to a fault – helping out his friends when they need him most but this inadvertently gets him into all sorts of scrapes – after spending the night in a school without permission he’s mistaken for the new teacher so ends up teaching under false pretences; after a brief stay in hospital he lands in trouble when he tries to help out Tom Cat and finds himself on the run from the police and the authorities.
There are hidden depths to this novel by prize-winning Austrian novelist Christine Nöstlinger. With its sparkling translation, by one of the doyenne’s of translation, award-winning Anthea Bell, A Dog’s Life conveys humour, has engaging characters as well as clever political observations: Tom Cat has to look after his kittens because the mother cats have set up a ‘mother-cats movement to fight for equal rights and equal share of duties, or there is the discrimination of the widow Olga against cats.
The dialogue is often funny but with lovely nuggets of wisdom – when Dog tells Bear and the widow Olga that ‘there’s nothing worse for children than quarrels and arguments. It makes the mind feel dirty, and you can’t wash dirt off the mind’ or when Dog laments the fact that all he ever wanted to do was help people ‘but now the police are after me,’ said the dog. ‘I don’t call that fair.’ ‘It all comes of these silly laws,’ said the bear. ‘We ought to go into politics and pass better laws’ … ‘No politics, I beg you’ said the dog. ‘Politics is a dirty business!’
With lovely, humorous black-and-white illustrations by German artist Jutta Bauer, A Dog’s Life is a gem of a book that has as much meaning today as it did when first published in 1990.