Published by Abacus on July 2016
Genres: Fiction, Friendship, Literary, Short Stories (single author)
Source: the Publisher
This is the story of a dog named Scraggly. Born an outsider because of her distinctive appearance, she spends most of her days in the sun-filled yard of her owner's house. Scraggly has dreams and aspirations just like the rest of us. But each winter, dark clouds descend and Scraggly is faced with challenges that she must overcome. Through the clouds and even beyond the gates of her owner's yard lies the possibility of friendship, motherhood and happiness - they are for the taking if Scraggly can just hold on to them, bring them home and build the life she so desperately desires.
I received this book for free from the Publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.
Animal stories. Often, they can be manipulative, saccharine over-doses that pander to our soft side, parables of modern-times wrapped up in a fluffy anthropomorphic shell, but rarely are they honest in their depiction of animal life. Sun-mi Hwang’s ‘The Dog Who Dared To Dream‘ allows us to go beyond this over-used trope and into a world rarely imagined – the life of an ordinary pup.
Born to a nameless mother in a provincial Korean village, Scraggly the black pup instantly bonds with Grandpa Screecher, the elderly owner of a local bike shop, and part-time wielder. When the time comes for Scraggly and her siblings to be sold off, Screecher initially puts her up for sale, but circumstances mean that soon she is the only one left, and a relationship forms between the two that lasts many seasons. It’s not long before Scraggly, thanks in no part to her insatiable curiosity, finds herself heavy with pups herself, giving her a new perspective on life and it’s inevitable heartbreaks. The relationship between owner and dog is often strained as Scraggly is hurt (both emotionally and physically) by Screecher but the loyalty between the two outlasts even the toughest of situations. As the years pass, marked only by the harsh Winters and the growth of a single Persimmon tree, Scraggly learns that love and truth aren’t always wrapped up in the nicest of packages.
‘The Dog Who Dared To Dream‘ is the second of Hwang’s animal fables to be translated and published by Little Brown, following on from the hugely successful ‘The Hen Who Dreamed She Could Fly‘. Adapted into an animated movie it broke all Korean box-office records, so it’s understandable that another of her many works gets introduced to the Western World. While not obviously Korean in tone or setting, this novella (it’s an easily readable 167 pages) is quite clearly Asian, and Hwang’s evocative writing envelopes the reader in this world with ease.
While the Scraggly and Screecher relationship is the driving force between many of the events that occur, it is perhaps the love/hate scenario between the dog and ‘The Thief On The Wall’ that is the most heartfelt and genuine. The ‘thief’ in question is an old farm cat who inhabits the wall alongside the Screecher’s farm, and the two often come to blows, especially after the cat causes the death of one of Scraggly’s siblings. The old cat’s honesty often hurts the naive pup, but as she ages Scraggly starts to heed her advice, even if it isn’t immediate.
Scraggly’s curiosity about the outside world is endearing and clearly mirrors Hwang’s own young life. Unable to go to school due to poverty, she was often allowed into classrooms by a teacher where she could read whenever she wanted. This thirst for knowledge also drives our protagonist, and her determination to see what’s beyond the school house has an added poignancy when you factor the author’s life into the novel.
Throughout the book, we’re treated to some truly beautiful illustrations from Japanese artist Nomoco mainly depicting the aforementioned Persimmon tree, but often of Scraggly herself. These simple line drawings add another layer to ‘The Dog Who Dared To Dream‘ and elevate it above standard novella publications. I would recommend the print version of the book though, as in the ebook version the drawings feel flat and almost like padding. Anyone who’s seen Nomoco’s gorgeous cityscapes or watercolours will know that’s an appalling waste.
I will give one warning about the book: there are moments of brutality that will make you flinch, and possibly very angry. It’s harsh, and painful, and not everybody involved comes away unscathed – but isn’t that life?
Right now, this strange, bizarre little planet is a bit wobbly. Things aren’t right. But sometimes, we need to look beyond the anger and focus on better things. Focus on seeing what’s right in front of us and appreciating it, loving it, nurturing it. Take those opportunities. Jump those walls. Fight those fights.
Be more Scraggly.
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