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It’s time for a bit of canine culture today. Allow me to present to you the famous Bim, imagined into legend by Voronezh writer Gavriil Troepolsky in the much-anthologized story “White Bim Black Ear.” Written in 1971, it became a classic virtually instantly. A film was made of it by Stanislav Rostotsky in 1977. You will note that the Voronezh-based sculptors Elza Pak and Ivan Dikunov represented the black ear (and a bit of a paw) with bronze, and the white dog with stainless steel. It’s a lovely little monument that obviously gets many kids of all ages to stop by and rub Bim’s snout and the top of his head. It stands in a large open plaza at 50 Revolution Prospekt in front of the Voronezh Puppet Theater, also known by the name of Jester.
So popular was Troepolsky’s story that by 1985, less than 15 years after the first publication, the sculptors not only had the idea of creating a monument to Bim, but they began work on it, not knowing when or where it would be unveiled. It wasn’t until Sept. 5, 1998, that the finished product was offered up to the public eye. Troepolsky, who was born in 1905 and died in 1995, was a consultant on the sculptors’ work, but was not alive to see it make its public bow.
I hate to admit that I remember the story badly. I did read it, relatively shortly after it was published. It was one of the pieces of contemporary Russian literature that were part of my basic undergraduate education in Russian language and literature at the University of California at Irvine in the late 1970s. Let me credit department chair Helen Weil, many years deceased, now, alas, for including the tale in my reading list. At a time when contemporary Russian prose crept into American college syllabi rather slowly, if at all, Helen did a marvelous job of acquainting me with the important writers of the day. So it is no fault of Helen’s if I remember “White Bim Black Ear” badly. That’s down to me and my rather wooden ear when it comes to things faunal.
“White Bim Black Ear” tells the tale of an unusual Gordon setter who lives in harmony with his beloved master, a lonely former journalist and veteran of World War II. The two are inseparable and the retired Ivan Ivanych (rather like John Doe in English) often takes Bim for walks and hunting in the woods. One day, however, Ivan Ivanych is taken ill and is hurried off to a hospital in Moscow. Left in the care of neighbors, Bim escapes in search of his master and wanders around town, witnessing numerous acts of human stupidity, cruelty and, occasionally, kindness. Deemed undesirable by a neighbor, Bim is dumped off at a dog shelter where he dies before his master can rescue him.
Now, put away the hankies, sniffle a few times, and bat your eyes to dry them.
Troepolsky’s Bim, indeed, became a Soviet-Russian cultural icon. For the story Troepolsky was awarded the State Prize (the highest civilian prize in the Soviet Union and, now, in Russia), sealing his position as one of the most famous writers of his generation. Rostotsky’s film won many awards and was a nominee for an Oscar in 1978. The role of Ivan Ivanych was played by the great Vyacheslav Tikhonov. The role of Bim, since his coloring is not found in Gordon setters, was played by an English setter named Steve (nicknamed Styopa). Steve had a body double named Dandy. According to Russian Wikipedia, the filming process was so intense that it undermined Steve’s health, and a few months after the filming was completed, he died.
Perhaps ironically, the winner of the Foreign Film Oscar when White Bim Black Ear was nominated was Bertrand Blier’s Get Out Your Handkerchiefs (France).
Which leaves me with little else to say.