‘Max demonstrates a grand theory in his life’s simple activities. He acts out the essence of life by actively living it. He tells me, “ Do not think so much about yourself, know where you’re going, get up and go. Be playful and joyous”.’
Starting with Max by Ying Ying is a journey of compassion, love and friendship. It is not only a book about Max, an adopted stray dog, but that of his owner. As Ying Ying reflects on her journey with her new companion she reflects on her present and her past. On her culture, her fears, her weaknesses and her strengths. Little was she to know that Max was exactly what she needed to help her cope with the mid life crisis she had found herself in.
Immigrating from Hong Kong to Sydney with her daughter and husband, Ying Ying finds herself in a foreign country feeling at a loss and uncertain of where her life was going. Before leaving Hong Kong, and after the death of their beloved cat, a promise is made to her daughter that upon arrival in Australia they would seek the companionship of a dog. They had never owned a dog before and with Ying Ying being afraid of dogs this was a brave decision, one that was to come sooner than she was ready for.
Culturally I found Starting with Max fascinating and informative. I realised how much of the Chinese culture I did not understand and also how I had never really given any thought to the life of a dog who lived in Hong Kong, or any other country for that matter.
Of her life in the park and on walks with Max Ying Ying writes,
‘ This is what I could never have envisaged while I was living in Hong Kong, any more than my relatives and friends there can now. There are few real parks in Hong Kong and people don’t normally walk in them, so they cannot imagine what it is like to play outdoors with a dog. Expecting them to understand what my life in the park has given me is simply asking too much.
When I see those poor dogs in Hong Kong walking on hard pavements, surrounded by impatient pedestrians and breathing in polluted air from the congested traffic, I do so pity them. How they must have to endure discomfort to obey their human masters. How truly self-sacrificing but sadly helpless they are’ ( pg 78 )
This had me thinking about myself, my country and my relationship with my two canine companions. It had me appreciating how lucky I really was to live in Australia with such open green area’s that allowed me to run with my dogs and daughter. My mind wandered to that of how I would cope should I be in the reverse of that of Ying Ying, in Hong Kong where the treatment and respect for my canine friends was not as it is here.
Starting with Max has a special power about it. Simply written from a woman who gives up her life as scholar and business woman to become mother, wife and dog owner, Starting with Max moves you. It weaves a magic spell of love, companionship and understanding. It takes you on a deep soulful journey into the bond and friendship between human and dog. It is the journey into the mind power of the dog and man and the connection that the two different species hold as they walk on the same land.
Although this book is meant to be a book about a dog I found it far more than this. I have many animals, dogs included, and see myself as an immense animal lover but did not feel when I was reading this book that I was reading a book about just any dog. I was touched and moved and felt that I was part of a relationship, a family, which include a canine member. Full of philosophical questions and the reflections of Ying Ying, I found myself questioning if a dog really had a conscience and what they really thought, they seem to have so much to tell us. Starting with Max is full of insights into the way the life of a dog changes the thoughts and dynamics of a family as a unit and individuals. Ying Ying shows a good balance between the joy of her new pet and the sadness of aging and loss of death.
Starting with Max is a book for all ages. My six year old daughter was spellbound by the audio book, listening to it contently whilst traveling in the car, even refusing to get out as she did not want to miss what happened next.
Dog lovers will understand Starting with Max from the first instance, with non dog lovers soon earning a huge respect for our canine companion.
Published September 2013
Available in paperback, ebook and audio book from Amazon.com
Find out more about the author: www.yingyingauthor.com
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review: Jennifer Douglas