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Laika back

Nick Abadzis


Page 45 Review by Stephen

Sometimes I fool myself that there are such high ideals in my work. But it's all a game.

The true story of a dog that the Russians kindly shot off into space on Sputnik II. It's a powerful book about the politics rather than the pooch, though she's very much at the front of others' minds, floating silently across the page in the silent dream sequences like the flights of fancy you'd see in a Hope Larson book.

Roads to the Gulag are manifold in Russia. The frozen roads out, on the other hand, are hard to come by and almost impossible to endure. That's where the book kicks off, as one recently released survivor, forced to stagger home alone, is tested to his limits, praying to the moon and muttering the mantra, I am a man of destiny. Eighteen years later, he proves to be just that: Korolev, Chief Designer of Sputnik I, the world's first artificial, orbiting satellite launched in 1957. But once you've been falsely imprisoned without trial - and never officially pardoned -it'll haunt you forever for you know it can happen again. So when Premier Kruschev summons him to the Kremlin and, elated with the propaganda coup over the West, greedily demands a second manned satellite be launched to coincide with the 40th anniversary of The Revolution, the Chief Designer, instead of answering that neither are possible, feels forced to make the attempt only with a slight change: it'll be occupied by a dog.

History has sealed Laika's fate, so the rest of the book pulls back to the years leading up to it as Yelena Dubrovsky, the dog handler working under Dr. Oleg Gazenko, tries desperately not to become too attached to any of the dogs in training for such a possibility (and without knowing it would end up being such a rushed effort), while Dr. Gazenko tries not to become too attached either to the dogs or to Dubrovsky. Neither of them are as sturdy as they hope. Yelena personalises them, going so far as to put thoughts into their head and words into their mouths, then when it comes to selection and the launch site itself, it overwhelms her.

Regardless of whether you think it's ridiculous to become upset over the fate of a dog as opposed to a human being in a scientific quest of such magnitude, you'll find that Abadziz succeeds in making you care, not via the cute fluffy doggie trick but through the hearts of those around her. More than that, he succeeds in showing that in this particular instance it was a sacrifice wasted under the twin pressures of fear and politics.
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