"There was a dog," opens Seishu Hase's poignant, loving novel, set six months after the 2011 triple catastrophe in Japan (earthquake, tsunami and nuclear meltdown). His name, according to the collar on his gaunt, scabby body, is Tamon, possibly "after Tamonten... the guardian deity." Hase doesn't anthropomorphize the dog; instead, Tamon humanizes the strangers who temporarily get to call him family in The Boy and the Dog.
Each section of Hase's novel reveals the people the dog meets on what becomes a five-year journey across impossible miles. Tamon's comforting presence, brief as it may be, also recalls for each passing companion a beloved canine from the past. "The man" (from "The Man and the Dog") has resorted to illegal work, post-disaster, to help support his mother, who suffers from dementia, and his exhausted sister, the caregiver. "The thief" has been forced to survive by criminal means since childhood. "The couple" are a mismatched pair, the responsible wife continuously struggling with the husband's immature selfishness. "The prostitute" is barely enduring her horrific existence. "The old man" couldn't be lonelier. And then there's a silent boy.
The undeniable bond between human and animal is the heart of this affecting novel. Empathetic tears prove inevitable--tragedies are unavoidable, and the body count is surprisingly high--yet Hase manages to tell Tamon's story without ever resorting to excessive sentimentality. Originally published in 2020 in Japan and awarded the prestigious Naoki Prize, The Boy and the Dog sees its English-language debut thanks to a deft translation by Alison Watts. Pet owners will certainly be reminded to chip their furry children. --Terry Hong, BookDragon