Sunday, November 20, 2011

Rin Tin Tin by Susan Orlean

"Rin Tin Tin is that rare thing that endures when so much else rushes past." Journalist Susan Orlean spent years investigating the many stories that originated from one German Shepherd puppy that was found in France by an American soldier near the end of World War 1. From that dog and his owner, Lee Duncan, grew a dynasty in movies and then on tv that spanned four decades and made Rin Tin Tin known around the world.

Rintintin and Nenette dolls
Lee Duncan kept two puppies he found in a bombed kennel: a male and a female. He named them Rin Tin Tin and Nenette, after a couple of French good-luck charm dolls. Duncan wore a pair of these tiny woollen dolls around his neck. My own dog happens to be named Nenette, but I had never heard of these dolls before Orlean's book. (Nenette is named for a pet goose I knew in central France - even though my girl has a much sweeter temperament.)

Orlean's research covers such topics as the origin of the German Shepherd breed, the use of canine corps in wartime and the rise in popularity of obedience training in the U.S.A. Early movies, the advent of sound and colour and some of the personalities of the film industry are also covered. It would not have occurred to me that in silent films, a dog's inability to speak is not a handicap, and so, from the beginning, Rin Tin Tin was considered a star in his own right.

I listened to a Simon Schuster audiobook (12.5 hours) read by the author. Orlean did a better job than Jennifer Jay Myers, who narrated Orlean's The Orchid Thief, but I found my interest waned at times while listening to Rin Tin Tin, depending on the topic being explored. The Orchid Thief, on the other hand, held my attention throughout. What I liked best about Rin Tin Tin was that the central theme has to do with the importance of stories in our lives. I also enjoyed the personal perspective Orlean brought into her research near the end, as she examined her own involvement in the subject.
My darling Nenette

"I had wanted [...] some proof that everything, in its way, mattered. That working hard mattered. That feeling things mattered. That even sadness and loss mattered because it was all part of something that would live on. But, I had also come to recognize that not everything needed to be so durable. The lesson we have yet to learn from dogs, that could sustain us, is that having no apprehension of the past or future is not limiting, but liberating. Rin Tin Tin did not need to be remembered in order to be happy."

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