The Adventures of Shola by Bernardo Atxaga

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The Adventures of Shola by Bernardo Atxaga

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Category: Confident Readers
Rating: 4.5/5
Reviewer: John Lloyd
Reviewed by John Lloyd
Summary: Four lively tales of an adventurous dog and her owner, from a rare source. Worth hunting down.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 176 Date: October 2013
Publisher: Pushkin Children's Books
ISBN: 9781782690092

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You can approach Bernardo Atxaga, one of the most renowned Basque-language writers currently working, from two ways. Either start at the literate end, finding out if his voice is unique, his content exotic or universal enough for your tastes, and see if his Basque roots make him special in any way. Or you can just approach him as a wordsmith, and enjoy him enjoying himself, such as with these small children's stories put into this most handsome anthology. From the original, where the title character is spelled Xola, Atxaga has himself translated them into Spanish – even if the fourth is yet to appear there – and this is a fine English language version of all four tales.

Nowhere is there the idea of a writer slumming it for the young, even if there could be a twee simplicity in the tale of a proud little white dog and her human master, and in the way they converse with each other. The first story is a charming little piece, wherein Shola gets evidence from a visitor and a book and her own conceitedness that she is in fact a lion, and tries to change her life to fit. The second shows the writer being able to drop an easy turn of phrase into a good story, as Shola's dad suffers an obligation with a group of hunters, and Shola decides she's more than a match for wild sheepboar. But before the end there's more than a little breeze of doubt blowing about her ears.

The third tale features another dog having strange ideas and ways for a change, and is yet again fine, until a rather blunt ending. The most recent tale is definitely the richest for all, I'd dare suggest. Shola is a libertarian at heart, willing to live by the philosophy of doing and eating what she wants and when, but is that freedom the most productive and universally-pleasing state of mind? Here nobody can remember her name's pronunciation, and the whole thing is surely a brilliant disguised metaphor for the Basque cause. In one fell swoop the other stories become potential political statements, and we're back to looking at Atxaga from the other viewpoint after all.

Shola has been served very well here, with a great colour illustration on practically every double page spread, from a Basque artist with a fine eye for fun, clear character. It's almost deluxe enough to justify the asking price, but what price the prestige of reading such amusements from such a rarefied corner of Europe? Shola is a charming, short creature stuffed with charisma and fierce ideas, and so is the book about her.

I must thank the publishers for my review copy.

A similarly spirited dog can be had with the series including Grk and the Phoney Macaroni by Joshua Doder.

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