Latvian Wonder Dog

The delights of revising a childhood favorite.

Kriksis meets his new best friend in Rīga.

The title of the book is Kriksis Trimdā in English Kriksis in Exile. My latest read.

Some of my followers are Latvians but probably many of them don’t speak, let alone read Latvian so why should they or anyone who is not Latvian care about a Latvian children’s book? Hopefully, my post will prompt people, no matter what their language to pick up old childhood favorites and read it again. Or perhaps to get a children’s book they never got around to reading.

Many adults turn up their noses at the prospect of reading a children’s book. Not me. I read Charlotte’s Web as an adult because students in my college English class raved about it. When I read the book, I understood why people of every age love it. I also read The Wind in the Willows when I was all grown up and every one of the Harry Potter books. Good writing is good writing, no matter who it’s meant for.

The water rat is right, “There is nothing–absolutely nothing–half so much worth doing as messing about in boats.” (The Wind in the Willows)

What prompted me to pick up my old book was disappointment with some of the books for adults that I’ve read lately. Books with holes in the logic of the plot. Books with way too much detail. A book that included the description of a character’s digestive issue. It was boring even before it got to that point. Books with cardboard characters. Redundancies. The last one I really liked was a book I re-read before last Christmas, Abide With Me by Elizabeth Strout that’s about a widowed small-town minister.

The exiled dog and his boy enchant me as much now as they did when my father and I took turns reading chapters to each other when I was in elementary school.

Lassie: “Tommy’s in the well!” Lassie alerts the family.

Kriksis: Tomiņš (Tommy) has been captured by Russian soldiers. Kriksis to the resscue.

Was Tommy in the well a real episode? I don’t remember.

If Kriksis in Exile were in English it would probably give some people a heart attack and get banned. I don’t remember being traumatized by it even though my family and I were exiles. I’d probably already been traumatized by overhearing the stories of their and their friends’ experiences during the Second World War. When someone, like my parents, who were refugees in Germany, survives the bombing of Berlin, you have a different perspective of reality.

The first chapter shows forest animals, all of them friends of Kriksis, struggling to define war. War is terrible noise. War is fire falling from the sky. War destroys mole’s house. They wonder, should they hide deep in the ground anyway? Can war follow them into the ground? Owl has seen war and tells about it to Raven who explains it to the other animals. War is humans fighting each other. Firing guns the size of logs. Flying machines with wings as long as trees are tall, dropping huge bullets on everyone. War is Russians trying to steal land that doesn’t belong to them.

Where is Kriksis the animals wonder? He is smarter than all the rest of them put together. He is not just their friend, he is their hero. He will know what to do. The forest is on fire and Kriksis rescues many of his friends by carrying them on his back as he swims a river. All the animals speak the same language. A language that a boy can understand but adults can’t.

It’s not until much later in the book, after many adventures, that Kriksis, having lost his family. who fled the war, meets Tomiņš who has also lost his family, not to death but to exile.

How is it that a child of exiles can find such a book enchanting? Maybe because of the stalwart dog and his loyalty to friends, both the other animal and the boy. Because of the dog’s intelligence and ingenuity. Because of Tomiņš and Kriksis motto, “We are not ones to be afraid. that helps them survive the perils of war and exile. There’s also the charm of dog and boy understanding each other so well.

I don’t remember how old I was when my father and I read about Kriksis and Tomiņš maybe eight or nine. Unlike with a couple of other books, we read it cover to cover. One book we never finished was a Latvian book called Legends of Christ. Once we got to Maundy Thursday. I refused to read more. I knew what would happen on Good Friday and did not want to read about it. No way could I be persuaded to continue.

Despite the subjects, war, and exile, there is no graphic violence in Kriksis in Eixle but when the boy and dog wind up as exiles in Germany they see buildings with shattered windows, buildings with no roof, and piles of rubble in the street. On their journey, they experience hunger and sleeplessness. Somehow, I survived hearing about all that.

From a book of wonder tales by the author of Kriksis in Exile.

When I finish reading, Kriksis in Exile, I think I’ll read some of my other Latvian books. It’s gratifying to know I can read my native language more smoothly than I expected. There were only a couple of words I didn’t recognize. And I was reminded of the charms of the Latvian language with all its declensions, conjugations, and terms of endearment.

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