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It is said to be the first-ever novel by a dog. "Sirius," Jonathan Crown's tales of a (fictional) Fox Terrier who starred in Hollywood in the 1930s and spied on Nazi Germany, is poised to captivate English readers.
When the Gestapo breaks into Isidor Reich's apartment to arrest and deport him, they shoot down all of his dogs, except for one hidden puppy: Levi.
Levi is later renamed "Sirius," as a Jewish name in Germany in 1938 is unsafe - even for dogs. The little Fox Terrier then becomes part of the Liliencron household, a respected Jewish family, and witnesses how the renowned scientist Carl Liliencron and his family are harassed by the Nazis.
Dog spies for the Americans
Fleeing persecution in Germany, the Liliencrons land in Hollywood. The head of the family works as a chauffeur for famous film stars. His dog gets discovered by movie producers and is hired as a performer. The Fox Terrier Sirius becomes a huge American star.
He is later accidentally sent back to Germany. After initially finding shelter with a simple-minded Nazi, he becomes the lap dog of Adolf Hitler himself.
Sirius then lands another job: As a spy. His privileged position in the Führer's headquarters gives him access to important information, which he passes on to the German resistance.
Book balances black humor with depth
A dog escapes Nazi Germany, becomes a star in Hollywood, only to return to Germany as a spy: Summarized this way, "Sirius" could sound like some kind of cheap absurd comedy. Yet the novel manages to balance black humor and biting satire, offering an insightful narrative with a historical backdrop.
Readers responded overwhelmingly positive to the novel when it came out in Germany in the fall of last year, which is why it has now been translated in English. Apart from Günter Grass and Daniel Kehlmann, German literature is still short in supply for English readers.
Here are some of the reasons why "Sirius" could realistically become a best-seller across the Atlantic too.
Ingredients for success: Nazis and Hollywood
First of all, the story takes places during the Nazi regime. Even though fantasy wildly merges with reality in "Sirius," this historic period still captivates readers.
Americans also typically like reading about Hollywood. In Jonathan Crown's novel, the little Fox Terrier Sirius becomes a film star, meeting icons of cinema like Rita Hayworth, Gary Grant, Marlene Dietrich, and Fritz Lang.
A story about a performing dog isn't so far-fetched, after all: There are tons of real-life dogs who've conquered the silver screen, from Lassie and Rin Tin Tin to Jack, the Jack Russell Terrier in the Oscar-winning worldwide hit, "The Artist" (2011).
And finally, beyond Jonathan Crown's satirical and surreal ideas, the wit and the puns, the novel offers layers of depth and warmth. Themes like exile and homelessness, flight and expulsion are presented with a light tone, yet leave a lasting impression. The American public will enjoy this.
The first novel by a dog
"Jonathan Crown" is actually a pseudonym. His publishers playfully claim that the reclusive author got the story from his Fox Terrier, Alpha - Sirius' grandson. Crown considers himself more a medium than an author, as he simply wrote down what the dog dictated. He says he hopes this will encourage other pets to reveal their perspective on world history.
This surreal blurb on the author of the book "Sirius" belongs to the style of this charming literary gem.
The true author has since been revealed: It is the German journalist Christian Jämmerling. But the English book "Sirius - The Story of a Little Dog Who Almost Changed History" will be published under the pseudonym as well - after all, the name Jonathan Crown sounds more familiar to English ears.
The English version of "Sirius," published by Head of Zeus, will be released on August 13, 2015.