on 25 August 2002
If you have ever loved a dog, you should read this book. If you have kids, you could do worse than to read this book to them at bedtime. If you are a kid yourself, you should think about reading this book to your parents (especially if you want a dog). And if you are a dog ... well, you might as well read on - seeing as you've got this far.
When my mother gave me One Dog Man to read, I was a kid - about the same age as she was when she first read it. She told me how she and her two best friends took it in turns to borrow the book from the school library, so that they could write the entire text out by hand, rather than lose it. That's the kind of story this is; the sort that you want to hold onto forever, because it makes you remember.
Ostensibly about a displaced kid and his new friends growing up on the shores of Lake Erie in the twenties, One Dog Man rapidly pulls loose the threads of your own childhood - the missed opportunities, the lost friendships, the near-loves and heart-in-the-mouth, death-defying adventures that kids can pass off so quickly. Not all of us have dived for fish-hooks. Not all of us have owned a hawk, or stuffed a tom-cat into a mailbox or eaten green bananas. But we have all done some of these things, or stuff enough like it that - no matter how much we have managed to shrink-wrap our early memories - we know exactly what it must have been like.
Thanks to Amazon, I recently got my very own copy of One Dog Man, which I re-read while recovering from surgery. I wish I hadn't, because I split my stitches laughing. There is dialogue here to rival that of Huckleberry Finn. And I cried. Be warned - there are moments of devastating poignancy in this story that hit you like a bully's punch, low and cruel.
If somebody ever makes One Dog Man into a movie, it ought to rank with Stand By Me in terms of childhood classics - and I wouldn't be at all surprised if it had influenced Stephen King before he wrote "The Body". There are journeys in Ahmad Kamal's story - some of them go through space, and some of them reach through time. There are hints, too, of the extraordinary life that the author was to lead in adulthood. But above all, this is a vision of a promised land ... a land of milk and cookies.