What happens when you put the brain and liver of a human criminal in the body of a dog? Exactly what you'd think, and then some. Bulgakov is quickly becoming one of my favorite authors. Heart of a Dog was so sharp, witty and completely hilarious. I couldn't help but breeze through it in a couple hours, which wasn't too hard because it isn't very long, sadly. It serves as a commentary on we perceive ourselves as humans in relation to animals and if any other animals acted as we do, we could see exactly how absurd our society really is. Plus, we're all drunkards and philanderers. And capitalists. Or so says the dog.
Mikhail Bulgakov’s short novel, Heart of a Dog, satirizes life in the early Soviet Union. In the story, Professor Preobrazhensky pushes the limits of science when he takes the pituitary gland and testes of a dead criminal and transplants them into a stray dog named Sharik. Over the next few weeks Sharik transforms into a proletarian, who drinks, curses, and makes sexual advances on the professor’s maid, Zina. The dog gives himself the name of Polygraph Polygraphovich Sharikov, becomes a documented citizen if the Soviet Union, and even gets a job purging the city of Moscow’s stray cat population. Eventually, the Professor and his assistant Doctor Bormenthal grow tired of Sharikov, reverse the procedure, and the man Polygraph Polygraphovich Sharikov reverts to the affable mutt Sharik.
Seething criticisms of early Soviet society pervade this novel’s pages. Bulgakov makes light of the absurdities inherent to Bolshevism several times; one of the most salient examples is the name that Sharik chooses for himself. In pre-revolutionary Russia, one was named after the Orthodox saint whose day fell closest to a child’s birth. When the Soviets came to power they abolished the Orthodox calendar and instituted their own, complete with holidays that celebrated the triumph of the proletariat. With the help of the Shvonder, the housing complex’s resident Communist partisan, Sharik chooses to be named after a Polygraph. Ironic because as a character he is dishonest, Sharik’s name also mocks a society that would place such value on a lie-detector machine. Because of derisions like this, Heart of a Dog did not receive publication in the Soviet Union until 1987, though it was written in 1925.
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Grove Press -
by John K,
An amusing story about a stray dog who is surgically transported into the body of a criminal and later becomes the director of the animal control department that is responsible for ridding the city of cats. His animal tendencies and criminal antics cause such an uproar in the city that its residents fail to see the miraculous outcome of the doctor's experiment because they are too caught up in his specimen's ignoble actions. Bulgakov was a very serious man with a genuine talent for making a mockery of social convention.
by John K
by New York Times Book Review,
"[T]he story is indeed a cautionary fable on the menace of crude, illiterate, and unprincipled creatures suddenly sexposed to learning and given status and a modicum of power."
This hilarious, brilliantly inventive novel by the author of The Master and Margarita tells the story of a scroungy Moscow mongrel named Sharik. Thanks to the skills of a renowned Soviet scientist and the transplanted pituitary gland and testes of a petty criminal, Sharik is transformed into a lecherous , vulgar man who spouts Engels and inevitably finds his niche in the bureaucracy as the government official in charge of purging the city of cats.
I first read Mikhail Bulgakov's The Master and Margarita on a balcony of the Hotel Metropole in Saigon on three summer evenings in 1971. The tropical air was heavy and full of the smells of cordite and motorcycle exhaust and rotting fish and wood-fire stoves, and the horizon flared ambiguously, perhaps from heat lightning, perhaps from bombs. Later each night, as was my custom, I would wander out into the steamy back alleys of the city, where no one ever seemed to sleep, and crouch in doorways with the people and listen to the stories of their culture and their ancestors and their ongoing lives. Bulgakov taught me to hear something in those stories that I had not yet clearly heard. One could call it, in terms that would soon thereafter gain wide currency, "magical realism". The deadpan mix of the fantastic and the realistic was at the heart of the Vietnamese mythos. It is at the heart of the present zeitgeist. And it was not invented by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, as wonderful as his One Hundred Years of Solitude is. Garcia Marquez's landmark work of magical realism was predated by nearly three decades by Bulgakov's brilliant masterpiece of a novel. That summer in Saigon a vodka-swilling, talking black cat, a coven of beautiful naked witches, Pontius Pilate, and a whole cast of benighted writers of Stalinist Moscow and Satan himself all took up permanent residence in my creative unconscious. Their presence, perhaps more than anything else from the realm of literature, has helped shape the work I am most proud of. I'm often asked for a list of favorite authors. Here is my advice. Read Bulgakov. Look around you at the new century. He will show you things you need to see.
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