Of course, his parents were both thoroughbred setters, with long pedigrees,"" but Beem, despite his good bloodlines, was born with atypical coloring and fated, apparently, for this dreary pilgrim's progress. When his kind master is hospitalized for an old shrapnel wound (""an operation near the heart is no picnic""), Beem is left virtually uncared for, forced into a series of captures and releases by tenderhearted boys and unusually vicious adults. What he endures--hunger and chains, a stint as a sheepdog, abandonment in a forest-is intermittently entertaining but weighed down by clunky chapter titles (e.g., ""A new friend, false rumors, a secret denunciation of Beem, and an author's digression"") and graceless doses of information (the dog nurses a wound: ""Cod only knows how Beem knew that garlic is two- or three-tenths of a percent iodine. I can only suppose that. . . the vast experience of his ancestors, programmed into his genes long ago, was revealed to him in a flash""). Why was such a droopy, inconsequential story selected for translation? With its stilted asides (""Ah, you flying doves, you don't know anything about well-fed dogs in captivity"") and dedication to Alexander Trifonovich Tvardovsky (the editor who published Ivan Denisovich), one assumes a political motive: Dog as Political Prisoner. Whatever the intentions, as a story, especially for an American audience, it's listless and shaky: full of frustrations and injustices but lacking bite.