Tuesday, January 10, 2012
RIN TIN TIN: THE LIFE AND THE LEGEND by Susan Orlean (2011) Simon & Schuster, 317 pages
In a year of beguiling canine appearances on celluloid that include a Buster Keatonish Uggy in THE ARTIST, Skeletor in 50/50 (with those eyes like sucked caramels), and Cosmo as the existentialist Arthur in BEGINNERS, the timing is more than right for the release of Susan Orlean's exhaustive and entrancing biography of perhaps the most legendary dog of all, Rin Tin Tin.
"Rin Tin Tin was born on a battlefield in eastern France in September 1918. The exact date isn't certain, because no one who was present during the birth ever reported on it, but when Lee found the puppies on September 15, 1918, they were blind and bald and still nursing." So begins the narrative that traces the remarkable trajectory of a German shepherd and his devoted master from the Front during the Great War to the height of stardom that Hollywood could muster in the 1920s to a life on the tired circuit of promotion to stave off near bankruptcy.
And, as much as I was beguiled by Rin Tin Tin and Lee Duncan's story--a tale of two orphans--and discovered so much about dogs in service during war time, it was the beauty and strength of Orlean's prose that held me in its thrall.
Consider this, for example:
"What lasts? What lingers? What is snagged by the brambles of time, and what slips through and disappears? What leaves only a little dent in the world, the soft sunken green grave, the scribble on a scrap of paper, the memory that is bleached by time and then vanishes bit by bit each day?"
Isn't it heart-thumpingly gorgeous?
You could turn to any page in RIN TIN TIN:THE LIFE AND THE LEGEND and find passages equally moving. Do just that. Find your way to this fascinating, big-hearted gem.