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FAITHFUL RUSLAN: The Story of a Guard Dog by Georgi Vladimov Kirkus Star

FAITHFUL RUSLAN: The Story of a Guard Dog


Pub Date: April 1st, 1979
Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Too pointedly strong to be officially published in Russia, Vladimov's parable, written in 1965, was yet another in the honorable line of samizdat manuscripts. It opens on the day a Gulag prison camp in Siberia is being closed for good, after the Khruschev amnesty; Ruslan, one of the guard dogs, is taken out of his kennel as on any other day, then inexplicably shaken off beyond the perimeter of the camp. All the guard dogs, bewildered at the breakdown in the order of things, haunt the railroad station of the town, waiting for new camp arrivals that never come. In time, most of the dogs, needing to be fed, take up civilian masters and assume the lives of pets. Not Ruslan. So fanatic that he will not take food from any humans who are not guards, he hunts mice for sustenance; when he does attach himself to a civilian, it's to warily ""guard"" an ex-prisoner rather than to be ""The Shabby Man's"" pet. One day, though, a train does bring a load of new people to town: workers, setting out to build a cellulose factory on the grounds of the old labor camp. All the guard dogs instantly remobilize, forming an escort column, thinking these are prisoners--gratified that order seems to have returned. But when the workers shuffle out of line, laugh, joke, the dogs are confused--they attack. Maximum power is fed into this closing scene, and this is heightened by how meticulously Vladimov had made Ruslan a believable dog as well as a symbol of a Stalinist myrmidon. The betrayal by a world he always thought unchangeable--brutality as the norm--is utterly befuddling to the dog, so much so that we feel sympathy, then shudder at the feeling. Strikingly written (and translated) and thoroughly convincing.