Literature Review: Dog Town

Līga Horgana is back with another literature review, this time Luīze Pastore's Maskačkas Stāsts, translated into English as Dog Town bŽanete Vēvere Pasqualini.


 

“Maskačkas stāsts” (The Story of Maskčhka District) is an adventure story that tells about one unforgettable summer in the life of a young boy named Jacob Bird. The lonely Jacob spends his days indoors alone in a big city centre apartment drawing maps of the streets of Riga and longing for some great catastrophe to come and change the world. With his dad struggling to keep his company afloat, Jacob is sent to live for some time with his cousin Mimi and uncle Eagle in Maskačka, one of the oldest outskirt districts of the city. Suddenly he is not only allowed to leave the apartment alone, play on the streets and make friends; but the future of  the whole neighborhood and its inhabitants, including the rare species of the talking dogs, is in his hands. This children’s book was written by Luīze Pastore and wonderfully illustrated by the talented artist Reinis Pētersons, and won the Latvian Literature Award as the Best Children's Book of 2013. It was translated into English by Žanete Vēvere Pasqualini and released as “Dog Town” by “Firefly Press” in 2018.

Although it is a true children’s book with an intense and fantastic plot, it never gets too silly or childish. The best thing about this work is that it is more than just an entertaining adventure story where a shy little boy meets a gang of talking stray dogs, fights the evil  Skylar Scraper and saves their home town from destruction. In an unobtrusive way, it also touches on some pretty serious social issues, such as the loneliness of kids who don’t get their parents’ attention because they are too busy with work, and adults who don’t get to spend enough time with their kids since they have to work a lot to make ends meet.

The writer learned about Maskačka and its inhabitants while studying in the Latvian Academy of Culture that is located in the diverse and unique district, and became inspired to use it as the setting for her book.[1]Although it is depicted in the story as the safest and nicest neighborhood of Riga, in real life it actually has a completely different reputation. For years, it had been associated with drugs, abuse and criminal activities, and only now it has slowly started to change — though people still today recognize it as a “rough” district. However, the many religious buildings, old cobblestoned streets and wooden houses (albeit many in poor state of repair) have a historical and romantic charm, and the book’s central message regarding the importance of saving and maintaining our cultural and historical heritage is in my opinion wonderful.

I have already mentioned my affection for the illustrations of the book. Many bigger and smaller black and white drawings expressively show the individual traits and emotions of the characters. Jacob Bird loves drawing maps and plans, and the artist lets us see them – crooked lines, inaccurate sizes, and only several of the most important objects being shown. It all is complimented by descriptions written in unskilled child’s handwriting. Reinis Pētersons has done a great job with this!

I personally enjoyed this book very much. Being a teacher of literature, I would definitely suggest this story to my 12-year-old students. In fact, while reading it I already had ideas on how to use it in the process of learning. I can see this book being interesting also for their parents and many other adults.

In 2019, Pastore’s story was adapted into an animated film called Jēkabs, Mimmi un runājošie suņi (Jacob, Mimmi, and the talking dogs), directed by Edmunds Jansons and released by his Atom Art studio. The film brings many real and recognizable places in Maskačka to life with vivid detail and wonderful, bright colours. It contains lovely music and jokes that can make both kids and adults laugh out loud. Even my two-year-old daughter who virtually never has the patience to sit through any video lasting more than a few minutes was absolutely captivated from beginning to end. My family wasn’t the only one who liked it though — it has won a number of domestic and international film awards. I would highly recommend watching it, especially since the film’s plot differs enough from the book’s to contain surprises for those who have already read it.


[1] https://www.laligaba.lv/index.php/lv/maskackas-stasts


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