Sirius by Jonathan Crown and Jamie Searle Romanelli (translator)
|Sirius by Jonathan Crown and Jamie Searle Romanelli (translator)|
|Category: General Fiction|
|Reviewer: John Lloyd|
|Summary: There's a great book struggling to get out of this light and far too forgettable comedy drama about a celebrity dog in WWII.|
|Buy? Maybe||Borrow? Maybe|
|Pages: 288||Date: August 2015|
|Publisher: Head of Zeus|
Meet Levi. He's a humble little dog living with a loving family. They've spent so much time with him he has learnt some tricks – not only the usual ones, of begging, or playing dead, but walking on two legs, somersaulting on to his two other paws, and giving the Hitler salute. If this was 2015 in the UK he would be shoe-in for Britain's Got Talent (although the Hitler salute might lose him a few votes, to be honest) but this is 1930s Berlin, and things are starting to get horrendously tough and nasty for Jewish families like his. Querying the statute laws that demand a formalisation of Jewish names his owners rename Levi after Sirius, the Great Dog in the night skies. But nobody can foresee what happens when Jews are pushed harder and harder from their neighbourhoods, and nobody can see what a Great Dog star Sirius can become, in the most unlikely of milieux – Hollywood…
This is a novel that takes some controversy by the horns, and pretty much gets away with it. But it's the wrong controversy, for me. I assume we're supposed to love it for the way it takes the Berlin of Hitler's time and turns it into a place for ribald, sentimental tragicomedy, but with just a couple of quips about 'what makes a Jewish pet, anyway?!' it goes nowhere close enough to that nitty-gritty. Instead it plays with fire most willingly and daringly with putting Sirius into real-life Hollywood. Jack Warner becomes a controlling partner in his career, and you can sod Paris, or Here's looking at you, kid – the dog under his new screen name was going to be the subject of some of Casablanca's biggest lines, don't you know.
The fact that Sirius is so often reinvented, is so often on the receiving end of fate, and so often able to be transported from one key location to the other, makes him the Zelig of the canine world. And this book is pretty good at doing that – he turns up here, there and everywhere, inveigling himself in with some admitted wit on to the world's screen, and even the theatre of war. But the success of the comedy involved in that varies greatly, and more often than not it wasn't anything like as good as it should have been. Also, I felt greatly that the book should have had bigger fish to fry – Hollywood meets the Holocaust should only really have one concern, for even with the best intentions one is slightly more important than the other.
Jonathan Crown doesn't sound like a German writer, but this, his debut novel, does reach us in translation. I don't know what reception it had there, beyond some positive blurb quotes on my copy, but I do note it only came out there in 2014, and so assume it was a hit to get translated so quickly. It's reaching us at a prescient time, for as I write it's only been a week or so since Uggie passed – the canine hero of The Artist. Both that film and this show the glorified veneer of Hollywood, as well as a darker side, but if anything the way the film gets closer to the truth for me about the birth of talking pictures than this does about its setting, can only mean it's the better work. Now I know Germany has the right to finally demand light, humorous pieces with a focus on Hitler and his doings, and I can see some market for that here, but this was not the book it should have been for me – it's too frothy, too insubstantial, and doesn't nail any themes or topics nearly as firmly as it could have done.
I must still thank the publishers for my review copy.
Look Who's Back by Timur Vermes shows it is more than possible to produce a humorous but daringly intelligent book about Hitler.
You can read more book reviews or buy Sirius by Jonathan Crown and Jamie Searle Romanelli (translator) at Amazon.co.uk
You can read more book reviews or buy Sirius by Jonathan Crown and Jamie Searle Romanelli (translator) at Amazon.com.
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