The little dog who almost changed history

After a run of excellent reads, I hit purely by chance upon my favourite read of the year so far, Jonathan Crown's enchanting fable Sirius : the little dog who almost changed history. First published in 2014 in German, there are some similarities between this and the recently reviewed Everything is illuminated. Both novels are at least partly based on the Holocaust histories of the author's family. Both are often comical, though Sirius has a much lighter touch than the fundamentally more serious Everything is illuminated. 

Sirius is just a wonderful story - fox terrier, Levi, belongs to the Liliencron family. Mr. Liliencron is an expert in plankton, and doesn't really like talking about anything else. His wife is one of the most beautiful and well-dressed women in Berlin, while his daughter is an expert musician, and son, Georg, a successful student with ambitions to become a doctor. They live an ordinary happy life in the city they have spent their life in, but it is 1938, and dark clouds are gathering in Germany. Levi in common with his family is forced to change his name. Previously friendly faces turn unkind, while it is hard to know who to trust. The family flee to America after Mr. Liliencron loses his job as Professor of Plankton.

In Hollywood he becomes a chauffeur, and, unexpectedly Sirius (ne Levi) becomes a filmstar and will hobnob with Humphrey Bogart's dog, meet Rita Hayworth and have a fight with Skippy - the real dog behind The Thin Man's Asta, but an unfortunate turn of events will mean a return to Germany for Sirius, where he changes name again to become Hansi, beloved of Hitler and undercover mutt for the Resistance. Can he ever find his way home? What is home when the city of his birth is in ruins?

There are some wonderfully light comical moments in this tale - Sirius' conversation with a dog who aspires to be the voice of Goofy, made me chuckle, as did his philosophical discussions with the Resistance circle. But it's also a fundamentally serious story too - as Sirius and his family struggle with issues of identity, the reader is forced to ask questions of themselves - What is home? What matters in the end? Who, fundamentally, am I?

Whether you love history or dogs, or espionage, classic films or the music of Hollywood, there's something for everyone to love here. It's a great fable, but also the dog's eye view of the 1940's presents to the modern reader what a strange world it was. From the madness of Hitler's bunker to the excesses of Hollywood, the poverty of Europe and the riches of West Coast USA. It's an extraordinary magical tale. Read it and fall in love.


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