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Dog Man: An Uncommon Life on a Faraway Mountain | [Martha Sherrill]

Dog Man: An Uncommon Life on a Faraway Mountain

In the snow country of Japan during World War II, we meet Morie Sawataishi, a fierce individualist who has chosen to break the law by keeping an Akita dog hidden in a shed on his property. By the time of the Japanese surrender in 1945, there are only sixteen Akitas left in the country. The survival of the breed becomes Morie's passion and life. Devoted to the dogs, Morie is forever changed.

In beautiful prose that is a joy to read, Sherrill opens up the world of the Dog Man and his wife, providing a profound look at what it is to be an individualist in a culture that reveres conformity, and what it means to live.

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Publisher's Summary

As Dog Man opens, Martha Sherrill brings us to a world that Americans know very little about---the snow country of Japan during World War II. In a mountain village, we meet Morie Sawataishi, a fierce individualist who has chosen to break the law by keeping an Akita dog hidden in a shed on his property.

During the war, the magnificent and intensely loyal Japanese hunting dogs are donated to help the war effort, eaten, or used to make fur vests for the military. By the time of the Japanese surrender in 1945, there are only sixteen Akitas left in the country. The survival of the breed becomes Morie's passion and life, almost a spiritual calling.

Devoted to the dogs, Morie is forever changed. His life becomes radically unconventional---almost preposterous---in ultra-ambitious, conformist Japan. For the dogs, Morie passes up promotions, bigger houses, and prestigious engineering jobs in Tokyo. Instead, he raises a family with his young wife, Kitako---a sheltered urban sophisticate---in Japan's remote and forbidding snow country.

Their village is isolated, but interesting characters are always dropping by---dog buddies, in-laws from Tokyo, and a barefoot hunter who lives in the wild. Due in part to Morie's perseverance and passion, the Akita breed strengthens and becomes wildly popular, sometimes selling for millions of yen. Yet Morie won't sell his spectacular dogs. He only likes to give them away.

Morie and Kitako remain in the snow country today, living in the traditional Japanese cottage they designed together more than thirty years ago---with tatami mats, an overhanging roof, a deep bathtub, and no central heat. At ninety-four years old, Morie still raises and trains the Akita dogs that have come to symbolize his life.

In beautiful prose that is a joy to read, Sherrill opens up the world of the Dog Man and his wife, providing a profound look at what it is to be an individualist in a culture that reveres conformity--and what it means to live...

©2008 Martha Sherrill; (P)2008 Tantor

What the Critics Say

"There's not a sentimental word in this book, but it will move you strongly." (Bill McKibben, author of The End of Nature)
"Morie Sawataishi has learned from his beloved Akitas to embrace the wild. Read this book and feel that power." (Neenah Ellis, author of If I Live to Be 100)

What Members Say

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  •  
    Chrissie Brussels, Belgium 07-15-13
    Chrissie Brussels, Belgium 07-15-13 Member Since 2011
    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "A dog breeder, his family and Japan"

    I really liked this book.

    This book is about Morie Sawataishi, his wife Kitako and their family. By that I mean both their children and their dogs - Akitas. Check out Wiki to see how beautiful these dogs look. There you can only see their appearance. Every dog breed has not only an appearance, but also a particular personality. Morie saved this breed from extinction. In Japan after WW2 there remained only 16 Akitas. During the war they were killed to provide fur vests for soldiers, and there simply was no food to nourish dogs when people were starving. In fact this is not the only breed almost driven to extinction by the war. During the war, Morrie kept his dog No-Name alive, at the expense of his family. After the war he worked to expand and unify the breed.

    The point of breeds is to ensure that a litter is uniform. When you buy a dog of a particular breed you know in advance what you are getting, both mentally and physically. It is important to note that not only appearance is uniform, but also a mental conformity is achieved through breeding. The character of a Golden is not that of a Huskie or an Airedale or a Flat. Appearance and character are both genetically inherited. This is not to say that how you train and raise your dog isn’t equally important.

    I appreciate that Morie saw the importance of shaping the breed’s mental disposition over simple physical attributes. It is a tricky balance act. First you have to strive toward creating a healthy, alert, intelligent mentality; only thereafter can you play with the color and thickness of the coat, curl of the tale, and shape of the ears! All too often breeders fixate on appearance, forgetting the importance of character, humor and spark, the spirit of the dog.

    This book is much more than a typical dog breed book. It is about Morie and the family and how Morie’s love for his dogs shaped every element of family life. This is about a person who goes after his goal, and everybody else has to follow. That sounds pretty brutal and selfish, but you know in the end I believe their life was good. That is what is interesting about this book! You get to look at another’s life and judge for yourself what you think of their life. It is also about living life with a passion. It is about living life for one you love; some of us don’t have these strong passions, maybe we want to follow rather than lead. It is about learning who you really are. I think it took Kitako quite a while to realize that she was in fact living a good life. Was it really being forced upon her? Sometimes it is easier to just grumble, but do nothing to change anything. When you read this book you cannot but compare it with your own family relationships and choices. Who won in the long run? Who suffered most? Each one in the family and each reader will have a different opinion.

    Is life best in the city or in the country? That is another theme.

    The narration by Laural Merlington was fine. She just read the text. The thoughts presented are what engage you. OK, the Japanese names are in the beginning a little hard, but after a while you recognize who is who. I pulled out a map to find the cities Akita and Sendai.

    So, you get life with a passionate dog lover, a lot to think about in terms of how people relate to each other and what life choices each of us wants to make. Very good book. Lots to think about.

    2 of 2 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Patrick Pueblo West, CO, USA 08-27-08
    Patrick Pueblo West, CO, USA 08-27-08 Member Since 2007
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    "Incredible history of a breed and a man"

    This is a great book about a man how saved a breed of dogs and how he spent his life living the honorable life of his dreams. I would highly recommend this book

    2 of 2 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Ron Sydney, Australia 06-25-09
    Ron Sydney, Australia 06-25-09 Member Since 2008

    Literary graduate and published columnist turned glorified grease monkey.

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    "Great Story, Interesting History"

    Triumph, pain, history, heroes, war, depression, surprisingly this book had it all. I was expecting a detailed account of the growth of a breed, and I did get that, but it was so much more. The main character had an amazing life and saved an amazing breed of dog from extinction. Let me be clear, this is a fascinating story. Full of History and really well written. there are some great stories of outstanding dogs and the regal Akita breed is done a great justice. I hate to say that the narrator dropped the ball on this one. She almost lost my interest even though I was enjoying the story. The telling was not good and I don't think a female voice was appropriate for this book. Don't get me wrong I really enjoy female narrators as much as males, but she did not suit this story at all. However, if you stick with her, this is definitely worth a listen, even if you're not a dog fan. Great stuff.

    1 of 1 people found this review helpful
  •  
    mia barner 01-03-09
    mia barner 01-03-09 Member Since 2008
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    "(A-ke-ta) Gotta love them!!!!!!!!"

    this book was wonderful,delightful,&surprising.. I own 3 of these dogs this book did them proud!!! and so am I to own 3 treasures......

    1 of 1 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Farrell 06-03-12
    Farrell 06-03-12
    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "A solid listen"
    What did you like best about this story?

    Akitas are beautiful dogs, to hear how they were rescued is a very interesting story.


    Was there a moment in the book that particularly moved you?

    Having lived a couple years in the same area of Japan the story brought back some memories.


    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    mjchgo 08-27-10
    mjchgo 08-27-10 Member Since 2008
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    "Dog of a Book"

    Having lived in Okinawa for a few years, and having brought an Akita back with me and developing an appreciation for the breed, I purchased this book with the anticipation that I would learn more and enjoy the tale.

    Wrong! has to be one of the most boring audiobooks I've ever suffered through!

    My 9 yr old daughter said I should just turn it on, leave it sitting alone by itself in a room and come back when it was over. Good advice which I probably should have listened to but unfortunately was too stubborn to follow.

    The Dog Man comes across as a cranky old antisocial guy and I'm amazed that his wife could choose to stay with him for all those years in spite of the way he treated her.
    He should thank the lord for her tolerance and stoicism since otherwise all he would have had were his dogs for company.

    I definitely would say that your audiobook credits and dollars would be better spent elsewhere than here.

    I had to rate it one star only because I couldn't figure out how to erase the star once I clicked on it.

    0 of 2 people found this review helpful
  • Showing: 1-6 of 6 results
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  • wolf
    port talbot, United Kingdom
    4/7/13
    Overall
    "Dog man"

    I love Akitas, and all dogs in general, so when I saw this, and being a devoted Dog owner(Akitas) I was curious to learn about the life in a country where ways are so different to most, this book explains the life of one man and his fight in the hard Times of war and how when others were killing dogs for money and survival, he saves and protects, and leads a life where owning a dog makes you rich in life but not rich in money, how he and his family go without, how hard Times within his family with the death of children pushes him and his family to the limits.



    But this mostly tells the story of how the Japanese Akita was saved and how over the years how the akita was changed to what we all know and love now, this is a fantastic true story of a mans fight and a breeds survival.....



    I recommend this 100% and this is a fantastic look in to a way of life and the look in the history of a fantastic breed.

    Would appeal to dog owners of any breed and those that have a general history/dog/Japan interest.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  • Catherine
    Tayport, United Kingdom
    2/15/09
    Overall
    "A fascinating insight"

    I really enjoyed this book, and it kept me engrossed on a long journey. The detail and the writing were beautiful, and it envoked the Japanese landscape and history very effectively.
    The reader was very clear and had a nice speaking voice. She spoke confidently and with a real sympathy for the subject. My only criticisms were that I found her pronounciation a little odd - I am used to the western pronounciation of Akita (a-KEE-ta) rather than the one used here (a-kee-TAH), but that was only a little distracting. My main disappointment was that there was not more about the dogs themselves. Although each chapter was named for a particular dog, there was very little about the breeding plans that led to each animal, and much more about the people and the politics of the time. For a dog enthusiast like me, wanting to learn more about the breed, it was frustrating not to be told more about the bloodlines and breeding methods of someone so involved in the redevelopment of the Japanese Akita.
    All in all, a super book and highly recommended for both breed enthusiasts and people wanting to know more about Japanese society.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
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