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It is the summer of 2006, and nineteen-year-old London music student, Layla, returns home for the holidays to a now peaceful Lebanon. When she arrives, though, she finds that her troubled younger brother has gone missing. “Borrowing” her father’s car, she heads to Beirut to search for him, meeting a variety of people along the way. But her quest is cut short when, without warning, Beirut comes under heavy artillery fire. A new war has begun, and now she is trapped in the middle of it.
With a Dog by Your Side
The footprints of a child walking along beside those of a large dog. Nothing special, perhaps, until you realize that these prints were made some 26,000 years ago in a cave in Chauvet, France, and that the dog was probably more wolf than dog.
The emotional bond between human and dog is one that goes back a long way. In ancient Egypt, pet dogs were routinely mummified in the same way as humans, and members of the family would shave their eyebrows as a sign of grief. In ancient Mesopotamia, clay statuettes of dogs were buried beneath the doorways of houses as protection, and the ancient Persians believed that the way you treated dogs in your life would affect how easily you entered paradise.
Faithful dogs abound in literature too. In the Hindu epic Mahabharata, King Yudhisthira makes the long journey to his final resting-place accompanied by his faithful dog, but when the dog cannot enter heaven, Yudhisthira refuses to leave him behind. In Norse mythology, warriors were reunited with their dogs in Valhalla, “the hall of the slain”. And in Homer’s Odyssey, when Odysseus arrives home after years of adventures away, his dog Argos is the only one to recognise him in spite of his ragged clothes and long hair and beard. Assured of his master’s safety, the old dog can finally die in peace.
Argos is one of the earliest named dogs in literature, but this stay-at-home pet is an exception. Consider Dorothy without Toto, Tintin without Snowy, George with no Timmy, Dennis with no Gnasher. They just wouldn’t be the same. Generally, the protagonist’s pooch takes a more centre-stage role, sometimes influencing the plot and sometimes becoming victim to it. He (and it often is a “he”) participates in all his owner’s adventures, and remains faithful through thick and thin.
Even a no-gooder like Bill Sikes in Oliver Twist has his canine sidekick, and one that says something about his character too. Bill with a Bichon Frise? Sikes with a Saluki? Definitely not. Bull’s-eye’s face is scratched and torn in twenty places, and the Bull Terrier’s viciousness mirrors his owner’s. After murdering his girl-friend, Nancy, Bill tries to drown his alter ego Bull’s-eye in a symbolic effort to rid himself of his guilt. Of course he fails, because in fiction, dogs are often more than just dogs.
In my novel Paper Sparrows, set in 2006, Layla, on a summer break from her university studies in London, arrives back in Lebanon only to find that her younger brother Ziad has gone missing. The stray dog hanging around outside waiting for Ziad to come home becomes her travel companion as she heads to Beirut to search for her brother. The cultural attitude in Lebanon towards dogs (‘Don’t you know the diseases stray dogs carry?’ says Layla’s father. ‘Parvovirus, distemper, mites, fleas. He might be rabid for all we know … I should get Mr Khayyat’s son to shoot it’) alters during the course of the novel, as the family realizes that Dog is more than just a parasite carrier.
And attitudes can change, even late in the day. Freud was no fan until he became a dog-owner for the first time in his 70’s. Jofi, his Chow, was then always with him, and even sat in on therapy sessions. In fact, Freud used her to assess his patients’ mental state. According to him, she had a keen analytic insight, staying close to the patient if they were calm but keeping away if they were emotionally agitated.
All of which goes to prove one thing. Early human hunter-gatherers knew it, and so do modern-day dog owners: things are always better with a dog by your side.
Nathalie Abi-Ezzi was born in Beirut, and has lived in Lebanon, Austria and the UK.
It was while working on her Ph.D in English Literature at King’s College London that she realized that she wanted to write her own novels rather than just analyse other people’s. So, while working variously as an editor, teacher and tutor, she wrote and published several prize-winning short stories and her first novel, A Girl Made of Dust (4th Estate, 2008), which was short-listed for the Desmond Elliot Prize and the Author’s Club Best First Novel Award, and was the winner of the LiBeraturpreis in 2011.
She has, for better or worse, always been given to utterly pointless yet entirely joyful activities like playing music, drawing, painting, reading, and going on long walks. She has a particular interest in animal welfare, and has volunteered at shelters and rescue centres for many years. She always has a rescue dog by her side while writing, which is perhaps why animals invariably find their way into her work …
Twitter: https://twitter.com/EzziAbi Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/nathalieabiezzi/ Website: http://www.nathalieabiezzi.com/
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