The Dog Who Could Fly: The Incredible True Story of a WWII Airman and the Four-Footed Hero Who Flew at His Side, by Damien Lewis (Simon & Schuster, 2013, 288 pages, $26 - and worth every penny!)
By the co-author of Sergeant Rex,The Dog Who Could Fly only gets better and better as you find yourself reading faster and faster. You know the ending but you have to read the whole book to find out how it gets there.
Like a murder mystery or crime movie, you know exactly how many pages are left or how many minutes: you just can’t figure out how it happens but finally everything falls into place and you are satisfied that there is only one way for the story to end.
And it is a good one!
Damien Lewis’ writing style is understated with fairly short sentences and words, though there are a handful of glitches where a British word or sentence structure causes a bump. It is not a children’s book, however, though I can see a children’s version in the future. Many years ago, it was to have been a movie by Twentieth Century Fox and hopefully it will be again when the popularity of this book receives a new audience.
The Dog Who is an easy read, perhaps even a ‘beach book’ or a ‘plane read’ but you won’t have time for a nap in flight once you start The Dog Who! Full of suspense and love, loyalty and humor, it also has a riveting plot as well as character development, war buddy camaraderie, and even a few love interests - the primary one being between dog and man. The war and flight accounts are not detailed enough, however, to lose women readers, and veterans will reminisce about their own war experiences and ‘battle buddies.’
The Dog with Nine Lives
Antis the German Shepherd Dog is four weeks old when discovered in an abandoned house in No Man’s Land by two European airmen shot down by the Nazis. Antis adopts the gunner, a Czech airman (Robert Bozdech) flying for Free France and later for the RAF. He is fed chocolates (not recommended) and becomes an ‘early warning signal’ for the ‘bad guys,’ be they on ground or in the air.
Thus, Antis saves lives, over and over again (humans have difficulty believing the canine’s extraordinary and amazing sense of hearing, though). In the process, he stows aboard a fighter plane, is eventually wounded by flak, is fitted for his own oxygen mask, sustains gunshot injuries inflicted by an irate sheep farmer, survives a crash landing, and lives many additional adventures, one seemingly more breath-taking (or humorous) than the last – but there are also sad moments and forebodings which must be endured as well.
Grounded at last by injuries, Antis patiently waits on the runway every time his airman leaves on a mission: when the returning plane must land at a different airport due to weather, injuries, or running out of fuel, Antis continues to wait . . .
The Heart of the Story
Antis is the dog everyone wants – the dog we call a ‘heart dog.’
Originally published in Britain as War Dog, The Dog Who is primarily a love story between a man and a dog. When I read in the preface that everafter, the Czech airman never had another dog and would not permit his children to have a dog either, I felt that was going a bit too far, but that was before I read the complete story of Antis’ loyalty and deep deep love for the man who saved him as a pup.
A bond like no other I have ever seen portrayed in a book, the bond between Antis and his human is tested again and again - and survives, just as the RAF mascot dog and his person survive the war. The Czech airman finally learns that in war, you have to put your dog first, every time.
I would read anything by Damien Lewis: Sergeant Rex is next on my list. Put it and The Dog Who on your list, too.
*I generally avoid rating books, and I’m a tough grader, but I do give The Dog Who an A minus – only because I dislike the dated term, master, and prefer the British title of War Dog - trivial reasons perhaps, you might think. If so, you can raise Antis’ grade to an A!
(This review first appeared on ColumbiaPatch.com and the other Maryland Patch online newspapers on 22 June 2014.)