Non-Fiction / Memoir
Written by: Akira Mizubayashi
Translated from French by: Stephanie Anderson
Published By: Melbourne University Press
Reviewed by Melissa Minners
There's something about books about animals that always draws me toward them. An animal lover at heart, I was fascinated with animals as a kid, reading every book about animals from indigenous species to endangered. Growing older, I found myself gravitating toward books about human relationships with animals. So, when I was offered the opportunity to read a book about one academic's relationship with his beloved golden retriever, I jumped at the chance.
Mėlodie: A Memoir of Love and Longing is written by Akira Mizubayashi, a Japanese man who teaches French in Tokyo. His book describes his relationship with a golden retriever he originally purchased for his daughter. Mėlodie was a faithful friend and family member for twelve years of Akira's life and his love for her inspired a growth in morality and a bond that could never be broken even after death.
The book begins with Mėlodie's death as seen in both the dog's point of view, that of Akira's wife and of Akira himself as he arrives home to discover he is to late to spend the last moments of her life with Mėlodie. We then flashback to when Mėlodie was first brought home and how, originally slated to be his daughter's pet, Mėlodie quickly bonded with Akira, finding in him someone she felt overwhelmingly safe with. The book discusses their special relationship throughout the twelve years and comes full circle, culminating in Mėlodie's death and its aftermath.
Separate Diary Extracts entitled Fragments That May Have Slipped from the Notebook of a Dog's Companion feature moments in which the author waxes philosophic about a variety of subjects such as the animal-machine theory in which animals are viewed as things and not beings that feel emotion or pain, fidelity and Hachi, the dog who continued to wait for his master at the train station a decade after his death. Akira Mizubayashi can't resist his natural urge to lecture here and, though interesting, these lectures sometimes dragged out a bit longer than they had to.
I was more in tune with the rest of the book in which the author made clear that losing his beloved Mėlodie was like losing a piece of himself. I found it touching that he relates the death of his father and the death of his dog with equal solemnity and pain, reinforcing the belief that Mėlodie was not just a pet, but a beloved member of his family. He learned life lessons from Mėlodie and she learned things from him. Their exchange of love was heartfelt and meaningful.
Akira says that the point of writing this book was to discuss fidelity - dogs have perfect fidelity, never lying and always staying true to those they love. Humans fail miserably in this aspect. Whatever Akira Mitsubayashi set out to do, what he achieved was a beautiful story about the bond an individual can have with their pet, making them no longer a possession, but a family member that will always be cherished. I would recommend Mėlodie: A Memoir of Love and Longing to any animal lover, but be forewarned: even though you know what happens at the end, you will still need to keep massive amounts of Kleenex handy.