Title: Stargazing Dog
Author: Takashi Murakami
Publisher: NBM Publishing
May Contain Spoil
Translated from the Japanese bestseller, this story centers on Oto-san, a man who finds himself abandoned by his family and friends with nothing in his life happening the way he had planned. He embarks on a road trip to escape it all, and he soon discovers the only one he can count on completely is his faithful, recently adopted dog, who helps him see the light at the end of the tunnel. Illustrating the valuable lessons of friendship and loyalty, this is a heartwarming tale of two endearing characters and their shared adventure into the unknown.
I don’t know what exactly I expected from Stargazing Dog, but a sad story of wasted opportunities wasn’t anywhere on the list. From the cover, I expected a carefree tale about a man and his dog. It’s not. It’s a story about a man without goals or the ability to change, and the love he has for his dog, the one constant in his life. Happie provides most of the narrative, and as someone who loves dogs and can’t imagine life without my Buu, the deceptively simple language packs a powerful punch. It actually felt like someone stabbed me in the heart a few times as I become totally engrossed in Happie’s life with Daddy.
Told in two parts, the first half of the book follows Daddy and Happie from a comfortable life in the suburbs, to divorce, to homelessness. Through it all, Happie stays faithfully by Daddy’s side. His whole life revolves around Daddy, and he is over the moon as long as he gets his daily walk and is allowed to spend time with the center of his universe. When Happie first enters Daddy’s life as a puppy, the man tolerates the dog and allows his daughter to keep her new pet. As the years slowly pass, the only anchor in Happie’s life is Daddy, and Daddy slowly grows fond of the dog. Unconditional love is hard to resist, and Daddy soon succumbs to Happie’s worship. As his fortunes decline, Daddy’s world begins to revolve around Happie, and soon, the two only have each other. Everything else is gone; sold, stolen, discarded. Just their mutual affection remains, even as life-threatening illnesses and a life on the road take their toll on both of them.
The second half of the book follows Okutsu, a social worker who is trying to uncover the mystery left by Daddy and Happie. Okutsu is a lot like Daddy, except that he lacks one thing that the homeless man still possessed; the blind love and trust of a dog. As Okutsu follows leads to close his case, he is forced to reflect back on his treatment of his dog when he was a child. He wasn’t always nice to the dog, and even when he was at his meanest, the dog still accepted him with unwavering devotion. Unconditional love isn’t always as easy to return as one would think, and when Okutsu was a boy, he resented his dog for always loving him, no matter how cruel he could be.
This book resonated with me because of the relationship between Daddy and Okutsu and their dogs. Neither one of them is particularly successful in their dealings with other people, but they have learned to form a deep connection with their pets. Even as Okutsu chides his dog for stargazing and staring into the night sky, you can’t help but wonder how the lives of both men would have changed if they had been the dreamers and the stargazers. Neither of them seems motivated to become more than they are, and if they didn’t have their dogs, they would both be alone, emotionally detached from everyone and everything. Maybe that is what struck me the hardest about this book – the dogs had a fundamental ability to live and love that both men were sadly lacking.
Review copy provided by publisher