21st Century Literature discussion

8/20 Fifteen Dogs > Fifteen Dogs - Whole Book - Spoilers Allowed

Comments Showing 1-35 of 35 (35 new)    post a comment »
dateDown arrow    newest »

message 1: by LindaJ^ (new)

LindaJ^ (lindajs) | 2369 comments The time has come. The journey is underway. I've a a question or three to get us started. Feel free to answer or ignore and posit your own or just tell us what struck you most about the book.

What do you think was the major point or points that the author wanted to make?

What's your thinking about the following statement by the author:
But it was also important because I think if you think of them as having their own language, that's closer to our situation. We have our own language and so when you can understand that they are translating — much of Fifteen Dogs is the work of a translator: translating the poems, translating the dogs' language — that sort of puts us and them at the same level.

Why did the author use a wager between gods to set up the situation? What did you think about the gods trying to manipulate things?

message 2: by Jessica (last edited Aug 11, 2020 10:17AM) (new)

Jessica Izaguirre (sweetji) | 122 comments For me, the major point of the book was language and how it shapes a person, a community and even a pack of dogs! I loved that Andre Alexis didn't use English for the dogs but let them have their own new language, that helped me understand where they were coming from and how they were growing into their new gift.

I really liked having Majnoun as my companion in this journey. I loved his intelligence and the way he developed an understanding and relationship with Nira. From his reluctance to answer with words in English and only using nods at first to being able to understand the meaning behind human words, it was all very intersting to see again how language evolved for him and how our own words can mean so much more that we think, or how we use so much more than words to express ideas. I was sad by their end but I think he had a great life.

As an immigrant myself, I can totally relate to what Andre Alexis said in an interview about language as a defining part of our experience. Even if you speak the same language but are from a different culture not every word actually means the same.

Overall, I really loved this book.

message 3: by LindaJ^ (new)

LindaJ^ (lindajs) | 2369 comments Well said Jessica. How language shapes a person does seem to be a major the book is making. And it is not just different languages like Spanish, French, Arabic, Basque, Hungarian, Finnish, etc but even differences within a language. E.g., English words mean often mean different things in different countries, such as England v. Australia v. US. A punter in England is a person who gambles. A punter in the US is a position of a US football team. A barbie in the US is a doll. A barbie in Australia is a barbecue. You have a mate in England and a pal/bro in the US. And even within countries, words can have different meanings. I grew up in Maine. When I went to Western PA for college, I thought my new friend's summer job was at Eaton Park because I'd never heard of the restaurant chain Eat'nPark. I asked for an elastic and a common pin and it took quite awhile for before my friends figured out I needed a rubber band and a straight pin. You are right that word meanings are often culturally driven rather than dictionary driven. And then there is the tone of voice or the eye movement. How do we ever understand each other?

Perhaps a related theme is the resistance to using a new language. Atticus thought it would make him less of a dog if he used the new language. That seems comparable to the fear of things different, such as fear of immigrants who look and speak differently.

message 4: by Tamara (new)

Tamara Agha-Jaffar | 278 comments I'm glad you enjoyed it. And I'm really glad we all have different taste in books; otherwise, it would make for a dull world.

I'm afraid this didn't do much for me. I usually enjoy fables and allegories. I just didn't think this was very well done. There seemed to be no internal logic to it. It raised some interesting questions which it failed to address.

My review: https://www.goodreads.com/review/show...

message 5: by LindaJ^ (new)

LindaJ^ (lindajs) | 2369 comments Tamara,
I very much like the questions you identify in your reviews that the book raised. Would you be willing to list them here and see if anyone thinks they were answered in whole or in part?

And, do you think there is value in just the raising of those questions?

message 6: by Tamara (last edited Aug 12, 2020 07:33AM) (new)

Tamara Agha-Jaffar | 278 comments LindaJ^ wrote: "Tamara,
I very much like the questions you identify in your reviews that the book raised. Would you be willing to list them here and see if anyone thinks they were answered in whole or in part?


I'd be happy to if you think people are interested. These are the questions I list in my review:

Can we resist the pressure to abandon our individuality and conform to group behavior?

To what extent are we willing to sacrifice principles in order to survive?

Once we have familiarized ourselves with a different culture, can we ever view our own culture in quite the same way and/or retreat to the way life used to be?

Is violence part of our human nature?

Does the acquisition of knowledge necessarily alienate us from our community?

Does knowledge come at too steep a price?

I think he raises these questions but never fully explores or addresses them. For example, Golding's Lord of the Flies and Orwell's Animal Farm both make statements about the nature of human beings--whether you agree with them or not. I just found nothing conclusive in this novel. He seemed to be all over the place with no rhyme or reason.

I have no problem with raising the questions. But the thing is these questions have already been raised umpteen times. So there's nothing new for me to see here. What I'd like to see is how they can be addressed--a sort of fresh way of looking at possible answers.

I'd be interested to know if others felt if and how he answered the questions. But it's possible these questions aren't important to others. So it could just be me and my oddball way of looking at things.

message 7: by LindaJ^ (new)

LindaJ^ (lindajs) | 2369 comments Thanks Tamara. They are good questions and now that you've identified them, I'm thinking a bit differently about the book.

The second question is one I'm always thinking about - "To what extent are we willing to sacrifice principles in order to survive?" It brings to mind the response of - "I was only obeying orders" or "I did not know it was happening" in situations such as the Holocaust. And the book does not seem posit an answer for what determines the point when the sacrifice starts or when it stops, even though it has dogs at different stages of sacrifice, from Frick & Frack who seem to have no principles to start with to Bella intent on saving Athena to the exclusion of any thought to herself.

message 8: by Tamara (last edited Aug 12, 2020 09:33AM) (new)

Tamara Agha-Jaffar | 278 comments Linda, I hope I have turned you off the book by making you think differently about it. I would hate to turn anyone off any book.

If I remember correctly, Bella was tricked into crossing the street by Frick. She trusted him. She waited until Frick gave her the all clear to cross. She was crossing the street to get to Athena when she was run over by a car. Frick had timed it perfectly.

Does that make Bella someone who is willing to save another to the exclusion of her own safety? Or does that make Bella a bit of a fool for placing her trust in someone who is a liar and a killer?

I'm not quite sure what to make of it.

message 9: by LindaJ^ (new)

LindaJ^ (lindajs) | 2369 comments Thinking about the book in light of your questions is part of the enjoyment that comes from discussing the book with others.

I thought about the options you posit about Bella. I chose to believe that she would have put her life in danger to save Athena and to trust that Frick & Frack were helping her do so. At that point in time, Bella, unfortunately, had no reason to not trust that Frick & Frack genuinely wanted to help her I do not think that makes her a fool. If we mistrust everyone we meet at first meeting (assuming there was no opportunity to investigate the person), it would be a sadder world than it is.

message 10: by Tamara (new)

Tamara Agha-Jaffar | 278 comments LindaJ^ wrote: "If we mistrust everyone we meet at first meeting (assuming there was no opportunity to investigate the person), it would be a sadder world than it is...."

Very true.

message 11: by Jan (new)

Jan Notzon | 102 comments Tamara wrote: "LindaJ^ wrote: "Tamara,
I very much like the questions you identify in your reviews that the book raised. Would you be willing to list them here and see if anyone thinks they were answered in whole..."

Excellent questions. Thank you, Tamara.

message 12: by Lyn (last edited Aug 13, 2020 04:20PM) (new)

Lyn | 36 comments I really loved the premise of this book, to see the extent that human intelligence causes unhappiness or not.

I agree with much of what you say above, Tamara. For such a wonderful beginning premise, so much more could have been done with it as a metaphor for how human intelligence can cause unhappiness. So in this way, though the book was intriguing, there was a great waste in how it played out.

I thought it was cheating that the Gods ended up interfering so much, and it muddied the premise. Also, judging unhappiness only by "at the moment of death" made it more of a cheap device than a truth that resonated (a person can lead an awfully happy life, but dying often involves some pain, and no one likes that).

I had the sweetest ever Golden Retriever, and know many black labs (all super happy and loving doggies), and so pretty much hated that Frick and Frack so readily became killers in the book.

I had a feeling early on that it would be Prince that would survive the longest and perhaps find happiness, but I perversely chose Benjy as my companion. Dang that Zeus! Without his interference, things might have turned out differently for him.

That's all I have for now. Wonderful idea to start the book, but the follow-through became somewhat mediocre, though still interesting to read.

message 13: by Tamara (new)

Tamara Agha-Jaffar | 278 comments Lyn wrote: "I thought it was cheating that the Gods ended up interfering so much, and it muddied the premise..."

Lyn, that's a really good point and one I hadn't thought of before.

It reminded me of the deus ex machina device used in some classical Greek plays where the gods step in and resolve the situation. The problem is the resolution is not organic but is imposed from the outside. Maybe that's what the author was going for, but it felt artificial. As you said, it's a bit like cheating to get the desired outcome.

message 14: by LindaJ^ (new)

LindaJ^ (lindajs) | 2369 comments The gods were fickle. They did not play by their own rules. Would it change things if the gods were removed? Did they work as a device to move the story along?

message 15: by Lyn (new)

Lyn | 36 comments I would have liked to see the original bet as is (cleverly written), but no further interference by them, and not judging happiness only by the moment of death. Dogs don't live that long, so the plot didn't need god interference to "move along."

message 16: by LindaJ^ (new)

LindaJ^ (lindajs) | 2369 comments And how does one judge happiness? How often are we "happy"? I think, like being unhappy, humans are happy for brief times. Most people, I suspect, are often content or discontent, with happiness and unhappiness far more distinct and short occurrences. Prince was happy because of flash back memories, not because his life had been a happy one -- it just had happy moments. That's just my quibble with the use of the term happy.

If the bet had been based on having one dog die contented with the life the dog had led after gaining awareness, which, if any, of the dogs do you think that would apply to?

message 17: by Emily (new)

Emily M | 86 comments I had mixed feelings about this book. On the one hand I found it engaging, readable and original -- I am very interested in checking out other books by Alexis. On the other, as some people have said, I felt it didn't make good on its promise. In particular, I felt that there were so many opportunities wasted by separating the dogs early on -- they could have had great discussions about why they need to mount each other and what is status and so on, but they don't. I particularly wish Majnoun and Prince could have reunited, even briefly. It also became kind of an exercise in watching dogs die, rather than seeing how they live.

message 18: by LindaJ^ (new)

LindaJ^ (lindajs) | 2369 comments Interesting reflections Emily. I was surprised when so many of the dogs died/were killed early on. Perhaps it was the author's way of allowing him, in this short book, to develop a few dogs more fully?

message 19: by Mark (new)

Mark | 336 comments Lyn, ... but it's in the nature of Greek gods to cheat and change the rules! Alexis, in fact made it clear from the first intervention we see, the unending $100 bills, that they can do literally anything.

In Apollo's place, I think I wouldn't have gone along with the terms of the bet as set by Hermes in the first place. Happiness at the instant of death seems less important than satisfaction with the progress of your life.

Linda, yes, the number of dogs that died shocked me too, perhaps partly since I was rooting for Agatha. Again, thinking of it from our wagerer's perspective, the death of the dogs was of utterly no concern. In some ways, perhaps it's that indifference, like Sky Masterson betting on a race between raindrops, that brings out love and fidelity of Majnoun and Prince more sharply.

message 20: by LindaJ^ (new)

LindaJ^ (lindajs) | 2369 comments Mark, True that it is the nature of gods to change the rules and, of course, they can do anything they can conceive of doing, like unending $100 bills for 10 years. But as we discuss the book, it is interesting to think about whether the story could have proceeded as it did without god interference.

message 21: by Mark (new)

Mark | 336 comments When I read a story, it's up to the writer to set the level of magic that the world of the novel will live by. The disappointing stories are those that change the rules mid-flight to get to the end. It's not a book, but the movie Hair is an archetypal example. It opens in Central Park, apparently completely naturalistic, and then incorporates the park's mounted police-- on dancing Lipizaner stallions! The rather tragic plot develops, but the promised magic never reappears. The (dissapointing) End.

Alexis stays in the world he promises: each of the dogs faces his world according to his character, while even the gods are limited in their actions. There are many parts of the world that I would like to learn more about, but I remain content with Alexis' choice.

message 22: by Sam (new)

Sam | 208 comments I have been patiently waiting to chime in, but what has been discussed was not prompted by my reading, hence I have little opinion. But since we are waltzing around the theme of death, I offer that Fifteen Dogs was a unique and entertaining vehicle for discussing the theme.

message 23: by LindaJ^ (new)

LindaJ^ (lindajs) | 2369 comments Sam, please say more. There was certainly a lot of death in the book. What do you think the author was telling us about death?

message 24: by Sam (new)

Sam | 208 comments LindaJ^ wrote: "Sam, please say more. There was certainly a lot of death in the book. What do you think the author was telling us about death?"

I wasn't planning to have to say more, so you've caught me unprepared and tired out from the day's reading but I will ramble my way through with some thoughts. IMO, Alexis, among other things, seems to be writing an entertaining response to the psychological and philosophical awareness and fear of mortality. There is a lightness to his novel which makes the somber reality of fifteen dog deaths less overwhelming, but I thought the author stressed love (Majoun and Nira) and life accomplishment (Prince''s death monologue on poetry being a seed for others) as proposed proper behavior alternatives to negative behaviors prompted by selfish fears spawning from knowledge of mortality. There is a lot more going on but that is the gist of it. Also there is the kicker that knowledge of death gives us a time frame for those accomplishments unlike the unlucky Gods who can procrastinate forever. My interpretation makes Alexis sound a little preachy in a self-help way, but I think that is what is going on and I think it well done. Does any of this resound with your interpretation?

message 25: by Emily (new)

Emily M | 86 comments I'm also interested to hear what Sam's thoughts on death in this book are. One thing that struck me was the absence of continuing life in the book... there are no puppies. All the females but Rosie die very early on, in fact, but it might have been interesting for there to be another generation who were native to the dog language. Especially if it's an allegory about immigrants of sorts, as Alexis seems to suggest in the CBC q&a.

The more I think about this book the more I'm flummoxed by some of the author's choices: give the dogs speech but make most of them renounce it; turn it into a game of how they die rather than how they live; prevent the dogs from interacting much.

I can kind of see the isolation of Prince after reading the q&a, because it is fundamental to ask "what is a language if no one understands you," and essential to the immigrant experience. But it could also have worked to keep the pack together, losing their fundamental dog-ness over the years but not becoming human either. Hmmm.

message 26: by LindaJ^ (new)

LindaJ^ (lindajs) | 2369 comments Thanks Sam. I'm going to need to ruminate on what you've said for awhile. The death angle never occurred to me but it seems logical.

message 27: by LindaJ^ (new)

LindaJ^ (lindajs) | 2369 comments Ahh Emily you have provided even more fodder for thought!

message 28: by Sarah (new)

Sarah | 70 comments I, too, was disturbed by so many early deaths and the savage ending of life by peers. An important theme for me was controlling the expression of base instincts. The choice of the dog characters permits deeper discussion without demonizing fellow humans. The dogs received human consciousness and were capable of language but still developed their own language. Dogs integrate their senses differently than humans with smell dominating their cerebral cortex. It follows that dogs also experience effects from the environment distinctively.

"Had Max and Majnoun fought over words or status? Could dogs fight to the death over words?" p30. Do humans fight to death over words?

My companion, Athena, said "These males fight for any reason"
Majnoun - "He had drifted so far from his instincts, it was not clear - even to himself - that he deserved to live as a dog."
Zeus to his sons - "How could you have been so cruel? They suffer within their own bounds. These poor dogs don't have the same capacities as humans. With their senses and instincts, they'll suffer twice as much as humans do. You two are worse than humans".

message 29: by LindaJ^ (new)

LindaJ^ (lindajs) | 2369 comments Sarah, nice tie in to the language theme -- "Do humans fight to death over words?" Or do they fight to death over what they think the words mean when said, with meaning dependent on one's culture, status, race, political party, etc?

message 30: by Sarah (last edited Aug 16, 2020 01:45PM) (new)

Sarah | 70 comments "Also there is the kicker that knowledge of death gives us a time frame for those accomplishments"

Sam, try the movie The Brand New Testament on Amazon Prime!

message 31: by Sam (new)

Sam | 208 comments Sarah wrote: ""Also there is the kicker that knowledge of death gives us a time frame for those accomplishments"

Sam, try the movie The Brand New Testament on Amazon Prime!"

Thanks for the recommendation. It is on the watch list.

message 32: by LindaJ^ (new)

LindaJ^ (lindajs) | 2369 comments I read White Fang by Jack London (published in 1906) this past weekend. It made a good companion piece to Fifteen Dogs, especially to imagining how dogs/wolves perceive humans. It talks a lot about nature and nurture, although not in 21st century terms!

message 33: by Emily (new)

Emily M | 86 comments I read this Guardian article, which was an interesting accompaniment:


message 34: by LindaJ^ (new)

LindaJ^ (lindajs) | 2369 comments Thanks Emily for the interesting article. It is indeed and interesting accompaniment.

message 35: by LindaJ^ (new)

LindaJ^ (lindajs) | 2369 comments Thanks everyone for participating in this discussion of Fifteen Dogs. We had some lively discussion that had me looking at the book from a number of different viewpoints that I had not considered -- part of the joy of a group discussion. While August is over, feel free to continue to comment. I'll be watching the thread.

back to top