Book Review: The Dogs of Babel by Carolyn Parkhurst

With a storyline that intertwines grief and joy, life and death, this book brims with emotion

Dogs_of_babelWhen I first read The Dogs of Babel, I was probably a bit too young to fully appreciate the nuanced balance of grief and joy presented by author Carolyn Parkhurst. But I recently picked the book up again, and was so deeply moved by the story that I was unable to stop thinking about it for several days later. A fictional tale, The Dogs of Babel tells a somewhat strange story (strange in a good, intriguing way), but one that feels incredibly gut-wrenching, real and palpable. Trust me, this book will make you feel very, very deeply. It’s a book bursting with sorrow and grief, but its story and characters still manage to shine with hope and love.

It’s a book bursting with sorrow and grief, but its story and characters still manage to shine with hope and love.

The book begins with protagonist Paul Iverson returning home to find his wife Lexy dead. She’s fallen from the branches of the apple tree in their backyard, and the police quickly deem it an accidental death. But Paul isn’t so sure — a number of anomalies makes him question whether his wife might have committed suicide. But if so…why? The only one who witnessed what happened that afternoon is Paul and Lexy’s Rhodesian Ridgeback dog, Lorelei. And so, on a wild and desperate whim, Paul decides to try and teach his dog to talk. If he can find a way to communicate with Lorelei, he can solve the mystery of his wife’s death.

apple tree


This in and of itself is an incredibly compelling storyline, and it’s one that takes readers through several twists and turns. But, for me, the best part of this book is reliving Paul’s memories of Lexy. Through a series of beautiful and touching flashbacks, Parkhurst unspools Lexy’s character, revealing a complex, tortured artist, who suffered heavily from depression. Some of these flashbacks are heartbreaking — there were many, many times The Dogs of Babel left me cuddled up on the couch sobbing. But there are also moments of pure, unadulterated happiness and love, like when Paul and Lexy first meet, their weeklong date at Disneyland, or Lexy showing and sharing her art with Paul. These flashbacks show a couple brimming with hope, in spite of their own difficulties and the hardships of life.

Our lives are a patchwork quilt of tragedy and euphoria.

I’m extremely impressed by how effortlessly Parkhurst weaves a story of despair and joy.   Because, isn’t that the way life outside of fiction is? Our lives are a patchwork quilt of tragedy and euphoria. Of course, most days (thankfully) our ups and downs are small and not life-altering. But, for each of us, there will come times when we are faced with scenarios that threaten to break us. The Dogs of Babel shows us that, even in the darkest moments, there is still hope, love and joy. That’s an incredibly powerful message for anyone who is suffering or grieving.

I won’t tell you how the story ends, or whether Paul finds a way to communicate with Lorelei. I’d be doing you a great disservice by spoiling a book that is sure to make you stop, think and feel. Suffice to say, The Dogs of Babel is a story that will keep you up at night contemplating life and death, it will make you pull your loved ones a little bit closer, reminding you that while sadness is inevitable, so too is happiness.

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