Listening time: under 4 minutes.

Inspired by the true story of a dog trained by the Soviets to go into space, Vasily Grossman imagines her life in this enchanting short story. What a life, and what a creature, Christ-like in her loving generosity yet as shrewd as Fagin in her survival skills.  Here Grossman chronicles the latter, including her penetrating knowledge of human predators and her tech-savvy negotiation of a twentieth century city.

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‘She was a small bandy-legged mongrel living out on the streets. But she got the better of all hostile forces because she loved life and was very clever. She knew from which side trouble might creep up on her.  She knew that death did not make a lot of noise or raise its hand threateningly, that it did not throw stones or stamp about in boots; no, death drew near with an ingratiating smile, holding out a scrap of bread and with a piece of net sacking hidden behind its back.

She knew the murderous power of cars and trucks and had a precise knowledge of their different speeds; she knew how to wait patiently while the traffic went by, how to rush across the road when the cars were stopped by a red light. She knew the forward-sweeping, all-destroying force of electric trains and their childish helplessness: as long as it was a few inches away from the track, even a mouse was safe from them. She knew the roars, whistles, and rumbles of jet and propellor planes, as well as the racket of helicopters. She knew the smell of gas pipes; she knew where she might find the warmth given off by hot-water pipes running under the ground. She knew the work rhythm of the town’s garbage trucks; she knew how to get inside garbage containers of all kinds and could immediately recognize the cellophane wrapping around meat products and the waxed paper around cod, rockfish, and ice cream.

A black electric cable sticking up out of the earth was more horrifying to her than a viper; once she had put a damp paw on a cable with a broken insulating jacket. 

This dog probably knew more about technology than an intelligent, well-informed person from three centuries before her.

It was not merely that she was clever; she was also educated. Had she failed to learn about mid-twentieth-century technology, she would have died. After all, dogs that wandered into the city from some village or other often lasted only a few hours.’ 

 

Source: Vasily Grossman, ‘The Dog’, The Road: Stories, Journalism, and Essays, trans. Robert and Elizabeth Chandler with Olga Mukovnikova, afterword Fyodor Guber (New York Review Books, 2010), p. 236

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