Review Blog

Jul 14 2008

The Black Dog Gang by Robert Newton

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Penguin, 2007. Louis Braille Audio (5 CDs, 5 hours). Melbourne, 2007.
Read by Christopher Brown
When Maggie is taken to the Quarantine Station with plague, Frankie and his gang come to regret their money making scheme, catching and selling rats to the health inspector. The time is early twentieth century and the setting is the Rocks in Sydney, a haven for poverty and rats, culminating in the outbreak of the plague in those early years.

Frankie and his friends attend the Ragged School, set up for the children of the poor workers who live there. Some are well off with loving families, but others suffer brutal treatment at the hand of alcoholic fathers and cruel men. It is a time of death and cruelty, dealt out not only by fathers, but also the principal of the school.

A terrific and at times, harrowing, read about a time hardly heard about, The Black Dog Gang realistically captures the times and the fear with which some children lived. At times I found it hard to read or listen to (tears) and I am sure middle school readers will lap it up.

Read by Christopher Brown, the story recalls the early days of Sydney, where living in The Rocks meant many Irish settlers, poor health, malnutrition and lack of food. The Irish accent takes a few minutes to get used to but as the story progresses, then the listener will be lulled into its sound. Christopher Brown effortlessly moves between the voices of the youths, Mickey and Frankie, with their eagerness and hope, to the nasty deranged voice of Mickey's father, full of spite, alcohol and loathing.
Fran Knight
Comment: I found this audio to be compelling listening. The story is unforgettable and highlights the brutality and poverty of the 1900's.
Pat Pledger

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