Timbuktu is a story told from a dog‘s point of view. The dog, named Mr. Bones, lived with his master Willy since his puppyhood. Willy is a poet, a freak and soon in his life a homeless. The book starts with the approaching end of Willy‘s life – and the dog knows it. Soon this foreboding gets reality and Mr. Bones is all alone after travelling around with his beloved master his whole life long.
I think that the book is quite interesting before you even opened it: A story about a homelesses dog, written through the eyes of this animal, that sounds remarkable, not only because it is not a children‘s book. After you started, it is soon clear, that this is an extraordinary smart dog. He understands the human language almost perfect, even the odd talking of his old master, and would have no problems to speak himself if the physical conditions would be there.
Already the first sentence tells you what is going to happen soon and you witness their last hours together, while they‘re on the way to Willy‘s former english teacher. The dog is in thoughts as they walk through Baltimore and piece after piece you get to know Willy‘s past, presence and their previous life together. That part of the book is written in no particular order, but like a puzzle the picture gets more and more complete and soon you know Willy‘s and Mr. Bones‘ story with a lot of details.
Willy‘s family are Jews from Poland and they fled Europe during World War II. They began a hard life in Brooklyn and some time later Willy was born. He grew up as a „normal“ Brooklyn-kid, who was always ashamed for his strange parents. His father died when he was twelve, but he didn‘t feel really sorry. After destroying his future at college with excessive consumption of drugs he returned to his mother‘s flat in Brooklyn and started with alcohol. But then, one night, Willy had a vision that changed his life.
Santa Claus appeared on the TV-screen and started talking to him. He opened Willy‘s eyes and soon Willy recognized that Christmas was real and that his mission in life was from now on to spread the message of love, the message of Christmas. He started a wandering life and from times to times he returned to his mother. But after some unpleasant experiences while sleeping alone outside, he knew he needed a protector and so he got Mr. Bones. When the dog was old enough they started a nomad life together, just returning sometimes to Willy‘s mother in winter.
After a long walk from Brooklyn to Baltimore they don‘t reach Bea Swanson‘s, the english teacher‘s, house, but they find the old house of his grandpa. Willy sits down has a last talk with his beloved dog. It goes on for over ten pages and Willy tells the dogs last details out of his life and shares his last wisdom with him. It‘s a very strange „conversation“. Willy keeps on repeating things he can remember from his past, odd names or things, words in different languages and all wrapped up in hardly understandable, poetic sentences in which Willy regrets his failures. It‘s quite difficult to read and even more difficult to make sense of it, but somehow it‘s always comprehensible what Willy wants to express. While reading those last words of a dying poet you can‘t help, but to be amused about the word joke and to be amazed about Paul Auster‘s rich language. In this pages he uses so many words and phrases I have never heard before, that I started to doubt if I will ever be able to describe my English as „good“.
Then the story becomes very weird, bacause they both fall to sleep and the dog experiences the death of his master in his dream, which is also the reality. He sees how policemen find Willy and that the ambulance comes and then he splits into a fly and a dog and the fly follows the ambulance to the hospital. There, he witnesses the last conversations between Willy and Bea Swanson and the next morning he dies. That turn is very unexspected and at first you don‘t understand at all what is happening. But after reading that part of the book you kind of „give up“ and take it as it is. Maybe dogs have capabilities like that and can see things that aren‘t present…
It‘s remarkable how it is described how the dog mourns. On one hand he feels a deep emptiness, like every human being would, but sometimes you feel like he‘s more sad about his own disadvantages and how hard life will be from now on. He not only missing his master, he‘s particulary missing the comforts this person brought to him. Now he has to expericene a life on his own for the very first time. There a many problems to solve: How to get food, where to sleep and how to know who is an enemy and who not.
After some demoralising experiences, Mr. Bones meets Henry Chow, who immediatly takes him home. They get good friends, but Henry‘s father, the owner if a Chinese restaurant, can‘t stand dogs and so Henry‘s hiding Mr. Bones. It works out for some time, but after a month it happens: He is discovered and has to flee. In panic of the Chinese man, who, according to Willy, eat dogs, he runs for days until he breaks down exhausted. Soon after that, he strikes it lucky again and comes to family Jones.
They spoil him with all their effort, except for Dick, the lord of the house. He‘s very happy there and soon he finds out that he‘s even happier than with Willy. There‘s always enough food, rides in the family‘s car and an ordinary life in the outskirts. This is another unexspectant development in the story. After you are surprised by the sudden luck of Mr. Bones with Henry (and the bad ending) you would have never believed that he would once again meet people that are so „dog-compatible“.
But one day it happens: The family goes on vacation and he is put in a „dog hotel“. He gets very sick, but he makes and plan and flees from the hotel back to the Joneses house. But in his condition he doesn‘t get very far and so he breaks together. After waking up, every movement hurts, but he makes is to the nearby highway. Originally, he wanted to get help there, but in the end he decides to go to Willy, who assured him that they will be together in heaven, and so he plays „dodge the car“…
In my opinion it is very extraordinary for a dog to think about things like death or even suicide. But through the whole book you get these impressions, that the dog is a much more human-like being like we think, something that can understand even the most complicated things when you just talk to it. The dog has a blooming fantasy and lots of feelings, thoughts and ideas. Many of these things are also influenced by or to refer to Willy. He talked a lot with Mr. Bones, about his previous life, about his thoughts, ideas and dreams. Because of that you learn more and more about Willy‘s way of thinking and his ideas about the world. For example, he thinks that Mr. Bones is some kind of angel sent to him by god to lead him to the right way. These impressions of Willy‘s worlds of thought make this book very vivid and you start to think about certain things.
One vision of Willy, that accompanies you through the whole book, is the idea of Timbuktu, the place you come to when you die. Bit by bit Mr. Bones builds his own imagination of Timbuktu in his head as a place where dogs can talk with men and everything is eternal. This idea is often confirmed, but sometimes also denied in Mr. Bones‘ numberous dreams of Willy after his death. Sometimes he dreams about him and Willy in places they have been and they‘re talking with each other as is would be the most natural thing in the world. These dreams often encourage Mr. Bones to change his mind or to keep on going and not to give up. But in the night of his terrible sickness he dreams about an evil and sarcastic Willy who destroys all his dreams of Timbuktu and their life together and Mr. Bones takes that dead-serious, but he manages to forgive his master. In the next dream Willy apologizes and tells him that their future together is certain and so Mr. Bones starts to think about joining Willy.
Altogether I think this book is very different. It‘s written from another point of view, from a point of view that is not human, but after some time you learn it‘s very humanly. It is full of unexspected turns and sometimes things you just can‘t understand, but that makes it more real and authentic. You get a completely different impression of what animals feel and think, that they have dreams and ideas too, but anyhow you can‘t get rid of the feeling that there is something human missing. Sure, the dog has feelings and a little bit of compassion, but mainly he thinks about his own advantages.
The interaction between the dog and the poet is also remarkable, how they influence and respect each other and how the dog develops his own philosophy on the base of Willy‘s thoughts. Particularly the thoughts about death and suicide amazed me a lot, because I personally don‘t think that animals have an imagination of that. The one thing I found very strange, was that Mr. Bones noticed the beauty of Polly Jones. I think it‘s not possible that a dog can recognize things like that.
The flashbacks, dreams and thought give you more and more insights about Willy‘s and Mr. Bones lifes and ideas as the story goes on and because of these things you can comprehend many of their actions and close that book with a melancholic, but good feeling.