Friday, 12 June 2009

Laika - Nick Abadzis

Laika tells a story that I would have normally tried to stay away from. I have a soft heart and a tendency to be easily reduced to tears by the smallest tragedy, let alone unjustified cruelty toward helpless animals. But I have to thank Nymeth once again, for sending it to me, because it was a wonderful read. Of course I cried, and of course it's incredibly sad, but at the end I wanted to hug the book, as if to hug little Krudyavka, another name for Laika, and all the people who loved her and cared for her. And this, I think, is a sign of a book worth reading.

I assume most of you would be familiar with Laika's story, as it's one that tends to stick into people's mind and heart.
In 1957, when the USA and the USSR where competing against each other to show the world who was the most powerful and efficient, a soviet dog was chosen to be the first living creature to be sent into space. The dog died shortly after the launch due to a malfunction in the thermal control system.
This graphic novel blends facts and fiction to tell her story, from her troubled puppyhood to her stray life, till the time when she was brought to the Institute for Aviation and Space Medicine, where she started her training along with a group of other stray dogs.

I appreciated this book on different levels. Although I knew about Laika, I didn't know that much. I wasn't aware of the fact that her death wasn't just an accident. That whatever happened, Laika was destined to die all along. I didn't know about the training, which sounded more like torture. And more importantly, I didn't know that the building of the Sputnik 2 was a rush job, just to exploit the momentum created by the success of Sputnik 1. Which means that probably, if the team had had more time, they could have built a better spacecraft able to keep the dog safe and bring her home. But what is the life of a little dog worth, when there's the image of a nation at stake? Obviously not much.

Possibly the thing I liked most about the book was the way it showed Laika, or Kudryavka, before her recruitment as a space dog. This is the made up part, which could have happened, or could have not, and it's essential in getting the reader to care for the puppy, to see what she has been through even before becoming a national hero. It also explains why she was the chosen one. Her need to be accepted and loved, after being rejected too many times. It's heart-wrenching, I know, but so are all the best stories.

I also liked that the scientists weren't all depicted as just mindless technicians doing what they're told. Some of them have doubts, and a conscience. Especially Yelena, the assistant to the dogs training. She establishes a special relationship with Laika, and in the end, is the one who's hit the most by the outcome.

One last observation must go to the art, as this is a comic book. At first glance I wouldn't have thought it to be great. Abadzis doesn't have the smoothest lines or style,but the story works really well together with the pictures. Laika is especially charming, and some of the panels are truly touching.
I'm really happy I read it.

other views:
Things mean a lot
Biblio File
The Written World
Life in the Thumb
Page 247
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Memory said...

I just know I'm going to cry at this book, but I'm still looking forward to reading it. It sounds wonderful.

Ana S. said...

I had a feeling you'd really appreciate this one. I'm so glad you did. I think I'm going to go hug my dogs now :(

Celine said...

I love the look of this book - I'd say the art would be a treat! But I gotto say I always found this story so sad that I'm not certain I could stand reading it!

Trish @ Love, Laughter, Insanity said...

I didn't realize this was based on a true story--have I been living under a rock? :) I do like the emotional stories, even though they tend to reduce me to tears. I'll be looking for this one!