The Dog

by Kerstin Ekman

The Dog is a novella which recounts a year in the life of a lone dog surviving in the wild. Hopelessly lost (although in fact not very far from home) a puppy takes cover below a snow covered spruce. Thus begins a new life away from his warm and friendly home.

Ekman takes us with the dog through the seasons, to near starvation, injury, escape and rough territorial journeys. Almost, it seems, to despair. But this is a dog’s story – though not without analogy to the human condition. This dog does not despair. He is confused, bewildered, alarmed, afraid, expectant. Scents excite him. He has vivid sense memories of places where food was found. He learns the smells, sights and sounds of his environment and how to stay safe.

The author gradually reveals the teeming natural environment as the dog experiences it and takes us through the changing seasons as he matures. Daily life is portrayed physically as a search, but there is also the sense of some more human spiritual journey:

…he was the only one searching for a way to make sense of a jumble of sounds and restless shadows. But he didn’t find it. He could find no trace of the pack he’d once belonged to. pp54-55

Eventually rediscovered by his human master, the dog is slowly and lovingly coaxed back to “the pack he once belonged to.” But his nature is changed forever by the experience of surviving the wilderness. Ekman succeeds in keeping this nature at the centre of his story. The dog chooses his place within the human family, who in turn recognise his otherness as enrichment rather than as scar.

Originally published in Sweden in 1986, we are fortunate that The Dog is now available in English.