Archive | 10:55 AM

Book Review: Finding Gobi by Dion Leonard (3/5)

18 Feb

My husband got me this book for Christmas a few years ago. I’d been enjoying a lot of books about endurance sports and this one involved ultra running and dogs. It sounded adorable. And it really was.

Cover Image via Goodreads

Finding Gobi: A Little Dog with a Very Big Heart by Dion Leonard

Summary from Goodreads:

Finding Gobi is the miraculous tale of Dion Leonard, a seasoned ultramarathon runner who crosses paths with a stray dog while competing in a 155-mile race through the Gobi Desert in China. The lovable pup, who would later earn the name Gobi, proved that what she lacked in size, she more than made up for in heart, as she went step for step with Dion over the Tian Shan Mountains, across massive sand dunes, through yurt villages and the black sands of the Gobi Desert, keeping pace with him for 77 miles.

As Dion witnessed the incredible determination and heart of this small animal, he found his own heart undergoing a change as well.  Whereas in the past these races were all about winning and being the best, his goal now was to make sure he and Gobi’s friendship continued well after the finish line.  He found himself letting Gobi sleep in his tent at night, giving her food and water out of his own limited supply, and carrying her across numerous rivers, even when he knew it would mean putting him behind in the race, or worse, prevent him from finishing at all.

Although Dion did not cross the finish line first, he felt he had won something even greater – a new outlook on life and a new friend that he planned on bringing home as soon as arrangements were made.  However, before he could take her home, Gobi went missing in the sprawling Chinese city where she was being kept. Dion, with the help of strangers and a viral outpouring of assistance on the internet, set out to track her down, and reunite forever with the amazing animal that changed his life and proved to him and the world that miracles are possible.

I feel like I need to start this review by saying I’m allergic to animal fur so I’ve never had a dog or cat. I have two turtles for a reason. I like dogs, but I’ve never owned and bonded with one. I hope that gives this some perspective. I liked parts of the book and were frustrated by other parts. I enjoyed the ultra running and the search for Gobi and the logistical nightmare of getting her home. I didn’t like the parts I felt were ‘edited.’ For example, when Dion covers the online donations and backers for the crowdsourcing effort, he’s only ever positive. I seriously doubt he liked feeling responsible to so many people and that so many people were always nice about everything. I bet some people really got on his nerves and times he wanted to go it alone so he’d get some peace. I don’t think an ultra-runner would have enjoyed talking to so many people; distance runners tend to like being alone for long periods. His media relations seemed to be very sugar-coated as well. He only says positive things and it’s hard for me to believe that it would always be that good.

I felt like everyone was shown in their best light. Dion didn’t want to say anything bad about any of the people who supported him and helped him find Gobi so every person he interacted with put their best foot forward. I think Nurali is the best example of this. She shows a bit of quick anger when Dion approaches her about his tent during the dust storm but it’s quickly brushed aside because she’s willing to help Gobi get back to Scotland. Then she takes forever to answer emails and goes dark for long periods. And Gobi disappears from her home when she’s traveling. Despite this, Dion talks about how great she was throughout everything. I thought it was a bit heavy-handed and made me feel like I was being lied to as a reader.

Lucja was my favorite person in this story. Talk about a devoted spouse! She was so supportive of Dion in his running career and in his quest for Gobi. I sometimes find it hard to say ‘yes’ to things my husband wants to do if they’re going to take us apart for a long time. She never seemed to hesitate. She always jumped into everything with both feet and I thought she was an admirable athlete as well. her relationship with Dion was very sweet and loving and I really hoped that wasn’t too contrived because I admired their relationship.

It was hard for me to relate to the emotions in this book at times. I’m not a big dog lover like Dion, though I like dogs well enough. I’ve never had a pet I was so devoted to. At times, his decisions seemed extreme to me and I couldn’t follow the logic. Risking my job to spend three months in China so I could bring a dog home with me? I wouldn’t do that; it’s just not me. That took me out of the last half of the book. Once the focus wasn’t on running, I started to lose interest.

Dion Leonard and Gobi
Image via The Times

The race was my favorite part of the book. I loved hearing about Dion’s experience in such an extreme endurance event. I have a lot of respect for athletes who complete those events and like hearing the first-hand perspective about training and racing in them. Having Gobi come into Dion’s life during such an extreme event was really special.

There wasn’t a part of this book I particularly disliked. Just because I liked the first half best doesn’t mean I disliked the second half. It was a cute story and it’s been too long since I read a memoir. It was a cute story and one that makes you believe that humans are naturally good.

The audiobook was narrated by Simon Bubb and I thought he was a good choice. Dion talks about his Australian heritage a lot so it made sense to have an Australian narrator. I felt he gave appropriate weight to emotional segments of the book and seemed to personify Dion’s serious nature well. I would have almost thought it was narrated by the author at times with how connected he seemed to Gobi’s story.

The dedication Dion had for Gobi was admirable. I think it was hard for me to relate to his attachment because I’ve never loved an animal as much as Dion loves Gobi. I do believe in a bond between man and animal and I think the instant bond Gobi and Dion had was special. When you find something that unique, you have to do whatever you can to protect it.

Writer’s Takeaway: Memoir can be hard. Sometimes there are truths that are hard to face. I think Dion struggled to be honest in this book and it was frustrating for me as the reader. I see this book more like a piece of marketing and a justification for all the donations he received than it is a true memoir. Parts of this book just didn’t sit right to me and I struggled to digest them. I think Dion might have written a very different book if he’d funded the search himself and hadn’t felt threatened by the Chinese government.

An overall enjoyable book but not what I was expecting. Three out of Five Stars.

Until next time, write on.

You can follow me on GoodreadsFacebookTwitterPinterest, and Instagram. I’m available via email at And as always, feel free to leave a comment!