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Little Mishka finds his cosy world turned upside down after the death of his beloved Babushka Ina. Unable to cope, his desperate mother finds solace in the arms of an abusive, alcoholic boyfriend and things go from bad to worse. When his mother mysteriously disappears, five year old Mishka flees to the heart of the city, where he joins up with a gang of street children, begging and stealing to survive.
Unsure of where he truly belongs and disillusioned by the cruelty of the other children, Mishka follows a friendly stray dog back to its pack and soon assumes his place in the group. The dogs are loyal and unlike the cruel humans, they share food and look out for one another. As the harsh Russian winter advances, Mishka and the dogs rely on one another for survival. Years pass and Mishka slowly begins to lose his humanity, forgetting his mother and ascending in status to Alpha male of the pack.
The Dogs of Winter is a fictional account based on the amazing true story of Ivan Mishukov, a 'feral child' who spent several years living on the streets of Moscow with a pack of wild dogs. In an interview with Mishukov in 1998 he reportedly said: 'I was better off with the dogs. They loved and protected me.' Indeed, this was a symbiotic relationship, as Ivan was able to get food for the pack and the dogs, in turn, offered him warmth and protection.
The story is dark and gritty and children with a more sensitive disposition may struggle with the subject matter and the fact that the story does not have a clear-cut happy ending. Parents should also be aware that the book does touch on the subjects of alcoholism, drug abuse and child prostitution, though the references are subtle and likely to go over the heads of younger readers. In my opinion, this book is best suited for children aged 11 and over.
I found the narrative so engaging that I completed the whole 350 page book in one sitting. I just couldn't put it down! The Dogs of Winter is an amazing story of survival and of the special, primal relationship between humans and dogs; an extraordinary read.
I previously published this review at www.thebookbag.co.uk and thank the publishers for my review copy.