rin-tin-tin-paper-medReviewed by Alyssa Katanic

Rin Tin Tin, by Susan Orlean is a surprisingly complex, as well as a highly entertaining read.

When I first picked up the 317 paged Rin Tin Tin I wondered, “How can an author possibly write that many pages about just one dog?” I was doubting my book choice and wondering how interesting it could possibly be to read about the lineage of a dog, no matter how famous he may be. However, Orlean has displayed “Rinty’s” life as having been so fully woven into the fabric of American culture that her telling of Rin Tin Tin stands out as both entertaining and historically and culturally educational. No, not the classroom, fact listing, ho-hum sort of “educational,” but the sort of education that takes you on a ride, exploring and relating many areas of life while staying anchored to a central theme, or, in this case, a central dog.

This past Thanksgiving, as I was in the midst or reading Rin Tin Tin, I had the opportunity to ask my nearly 90 year old grandfather if he had watched any of Rin Tin Tin’s films. “Are you kidding! That dog practically MADE Hollywood!” Yet, there is so much more to the story that Orlean hands to her readers.

At its core, Rin Tin Tin follows the life story of Lee Duncan and a puppy he found and brought home from the battlefields of World War I. Orlean gleans much of her story line from Duncan Lee’s own memoir, but always with the balance and understanding that one only writes in one’s memoir what he/she wants others to know or believe about him/herself. We learn about the real Rin Tin Tin as a puppy, his break into show business and the glamour that goes along with it, his fall out of films, his death and successors, and the mystery of the legend of Rin Tin Tin that has never completely died away.

Throughout Rin Tin Tin, Orlean takes her readers on a journey through World War I, the explosion of the Hollywood film industry, its evolution from silent movies to “talkies” and television, the American shift from the countryside and work animals to the city and house pets, World War II with its Nazis, and on through to the present day and our desires to hold on to nostalgia. Orlean is certainly a woman who has done her homework!

With the incorporation of the back stories of the culture and events of the 1900’s America with the lives of both Lee Duncan and his Wonder Dog, Orlean captures the attention of a variety of readers from the whole spectrum of generations. Dog lovers, especially lovers of German shepherds, animal trainers, history of World Wars I and II buffs, film industry enthusiasts, memorabilia collectors, and so many more- including those of us who just love a great story – will find many things in Rin Tin Tin to be sucked in by.

Rating: ★★★★★ 

Alyssa Katanic is a wife and homeschooling mother of 6 children under 10 years old. She loves reading and collecting great books to share with others and knows that one can never have too many!

Review copies were provided free of any obligation by Simon & Schuster. No monetary or any other form of compensation was received.