With severe drought, child enslavement, and multiple shootings of people and dogs, this slim volume isn’t for the faint of heart, though it repays those who soldier on.
In an unspecified African “place of dust and death,” in a story somewhere between realism and fable, Nandi the dog narrates an opening scene in which Sarel sees her parents gunned down. The gunmen, failing to find a water source, set the house afire and depart, leaving Sarel orphaned on her desert homestead. An underground grotto with a well sustains Sarel and her pack of dogs—fully family to her—while they recover from smoke inhalation and bullet wounds. In a nearby city, Musa sits in chains, taken outdoors only when gunmen (those who shot Sarel’s parents) need a dowser—Musa hears a buzz in his skull when water’s nearby. One generation ago, there were faucets and lawn sprinklers; now, gangs kill for a water bottle. When Musa escapes and Sarel’s well runs dry, the tale’s fablelike nature makes their meeting inevitable, even in the desert. The narration uses primarily Sarel’s and Musa’s perspectives, describing nature sparely and vividly. Thirst and heat are palpable as kids and dogs fight fatal dehydration. Occasionally, Nandi narrates, in broken English more distracting than doglike.
A wrenching piece with a wisp of hope for the protagonists if not for the rest of their world. (Fiction. 12-14)