kay, this one is a true story – Robert Bozdech, a Czech air gunner, is now flying with the French in 1939. The cold war is rapidly heating and while on a low-level reconnaissance run , German machine gunners shoot him and his pilot down in no man’s land between France and Germany. In a ruined farmhouse, they find a German Sheppard puppy. Robert almost leaves it behind (after he feeds the shivering, half-starved furball a bit of chocolate), but its pathetic howls bring him back. Tucking the dog into his jacket, they manage to make it back to French lines and from there, an unbreakable friendship is forged.
We follow Robert and Ant (it’s got meaning in Czeck) as they flee the fall of France and make their way to England (with a couple of near disasters for the poor dog – the evacuation is clearly not keen on pets). For example, to get the dog on board the ship, they lower him in a bucket from a dock until he’s just in the water. Then they go aboard the ship. From there, they climb down a ladder to just above the waterline and whistle for the dog. A tense moment and then here comes Ant, paddling towards his master’s voice.
The biographer assures us these fantastic stories are true – leading to the near Disneyfication of their relationship. Ant can understand he must lay in a pile of suitcases until a crane swings the load onto the English docks (to escape quarantine and destruction). Ant can identify the low hum of German bombers before the alert is sounded. The stories are fantastic and near unbelievable, but true. With Robert flying in bombers for night raids over the continent, Ant waits patiently on the flight line overnight. When this isn’t enough, Ant smuggles himself aboard the plane, surprising the hell out of his owner. Eventually an airmask is made for the dog and he flies many, many missions with his owner.
Through the course of the book, Ant is wounded by flak, shot by angry farmers, impaled on an iron fence and damn near freezes solid in an ice storm when Robert’s plane is diverted and the dog won’t leave the exposed flight line. In fact, this was one of the reasons the book as actually difficult to read. There is a trick in movies that, to really get an audience to the edge of their seats, endanger an animal. For example, in Independence Day, an entire city gets destroyed by aliens and it’s just interesting spectacle. But in escaping the flattened city, a dog is threatened by a fireball and suddenly the audience is emotionally involved. And here is what The Dog Who Could Fly does early and often – Ant is in danger in literally every chapter. And just when he’s safe, the author foreshadows an even greater danger coming up next chapter. In that, the book is exhausting. I was happy to retreat to my fictions after this.
But it was a good war-time book, and a great story for animal lovers (if you can deal with the stress). So yes, it comes recommended.