Susan Orlean, best known for her book The Orchid Thief, which was turned into the film “Adaptation,” hasn’t written anything for a long time. So when I heard that her new book was about a dog, and specifically, about a famous German shepherd, I thought I ought to read it.
Orlean is a talented writer. She moves effortlessly between stories and her work here on “the life and the legend” of Rin-Tin-Tin is evidently very well researched. She spent hours interviewing the remaining ties to Rin-Tin-Tin’s legacy and provides many thoughtful and fascinating anecdotes about old Hollywood, dogs as actors, and the rise and fall of the German shepherd in America.
Overall, however, I have to say that this book did not completely hold my interest. There was nothing “wrong” with it, nothing I patently disagreed with, but I had a hard time finding the story interesting. I think maybe this is because I was not alive when Rin-Tin-Tin (or his many successors) were on film or television. Orlean says at the beginning of the book that her motivation to write a biography of Rin-Tin-Tin came from an early childhood memory of her grandfather’s German shepherd figurine, a token pointing to the mythical and noble Rin-Tin-Tin. She had a strong emotional connection to Rinty’s story, and this does come through effectively in this book. And yet because I did not already have a profound emotional connection to the legendary dog, I think I had a harder time getting into the book itself.
Simply, if you’re a Rin-Tin-Tin fan, then this is the book you need to read. Orlean is a meticulous and expressive storyteller and researcher and her work here is commendable. But, if you’re like me and you don’t consider yourself especially close to Rin-Tin-Tin, your time may be better spent elsewhere. I think this was a book written for true Rin-Tin-Tin fans only.