Written in 1925 in Russian and circulated underground, but official publication prohibited in the Soviet Union. English language translation by Michael Glenny published by Harcourt Brace in 1968.
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How I got this book:
Borrowed from my partner
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
A rich, successful Moscow professor befriends a stray dog and attempts a scientific first by transplanting into it the testicles and pituitary gland of a recently deceased man. A distinctly worryingly human animal is now on the loose, and the professor's hitherto respectable life becomes a nightmare beyond endurance. An absurd and superbly comic story, this classic novel can also be read as a fierce parable of the Russian Revolution.
In some ways, the life of Mikhail Bulgakov is as odd as his writing! A Russian satiricist, his work was banned during the Soviet era leading him to appeal directly to Stalin for assistance - and getting a positive response. The Heart Of A Dog was written in 1925 but not published until 1968, after Bulgakov had died. In the sublime novella he imagines the result if, say, a progressive scientist and doctor was to implant the testes and pituitary gland of a man into a stray dog. The resultant chaos may be scientifically impossible (or at least extremely unlikely!), but it makes for a fabulous read.
We first meet stray dog Sharik as he is near death, shivering in a doorway and badly hurt from being scalded by boiling water. We see the heartless city through his eyes and experience his joy when a stranger shows him a tiny kindness. Back at the stranger's luxurious apartment, old Russia is still very much in evidence despite the best efforts of the Soviet management committee who are charged with further subdividing all the flats for communal living. One of the committee is even a Woman! What horror!
As the mad experiment turns Sharik from naughty dog to disruptive human, Bulgakov manages to use his surreal scenario to not only poke fun at the best efforts of the new Soviet regime, but also to deliver moral life lessons - kindness will always succeed over terror. Sharikov's efforts to assert and educate himself are poignant and I love the bureaucratic stubbornness of Shvonder. Fabulous set pieces such as the cat in the bathroom are hilarious and make The Heart Of A Dog one of the best novellas I have read.
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Books by Mikhail Bulgakov / Novellas / Books from Russia