Laika’s Window: The Legacy of a Soviet Space Dog

Kurt Caswell. Trinity Univ., $24.95 (248p) ISBN 978-1-59534-862-3
Caswell (Getting to Grey Owl), a Texas Tech University associate professor of creative writing, narrates the remarkable and haunting story of Laika, the stray dog turned cosmonaut who died on the Russian satellite Sputnik II, paving the way for Yuri Gagarin to become the first human in space. In addition to recounting Laika’s training and ultimate journey on November 3, 1957, Caswell takes the reader back to the late 1950s, vividly depicting the intensity of the space race between the U.S. and Soviet Union, and looks ahead to the future of space travel, which he believes is likely corporate-funded and focused on Mars. However, the primary purpose of this equally poetic and scholarly rumination is to consider feelings of loneliness and empathy across species. The titular window on Sputnik II serves as a “central metaphor” for these subjects, and Caswell has researched exhaustively to discover whether, in fact, Laika could see out of it, which would have required a conscious effort on the Soviets’ part solely to ensure her comfort. Caswell’s speculative description of the dog’s “slow and painful death” is perhaps unnecessary and emotionally exploitative, and he is prone to flights of morose melodrama elsewhere. What he has crafted, however, is on balance a moving tribute to the mutually beneficial bond between man and dog. (Sept.)
Reviewed on: 09/24/2018
Release date: 09/01/2018
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