Completed by Bulgakov in 1925, this short story remained unpublished in the Soviet Union for almost sixty years. When it finally appeared on Soviet bookshelves in 1987 it became an instant hit and is arguably seen as on of the author’s most hard-hitting novels. Not for nothing did Stalin’s censors deem this book too sensitive for publication.
‘The Heart of a Dog’ is the absurd story of a stray dog, who is taken in from the streets by a well-known, well-off Professor named Philip Philipovich Preobrazhensky in order that he may attempt a groundbreaking operation; the transplantation of human testicles and pituitary gland into the dog. The operation is successful; however the Professor has produced an intolerable being which resembles a human of revolutionary sentiment with a dog-like penchant for chasing cats.
The story is enjoyable in and of itself, and one must congratulate Bulgakov for his imagination and inventiveness – forced upon him by the oppressive intellectual climate of his time - in thinking up such a tale. In addition, It is very easy to read and interesting for its portrayal of the atmosphere in a bourgeois household in 1920s Moscow. There are also a number of other levels to the book and various interpretations of what Bulgakov’s true message was. It is worth noting, for example, that Professor Preobrazhensky’s name is a derivative of the Slavic word for ‘transfiguration’, and the book is ostensibly about failed attempts to improve upon human nature. Thus, Bulgakov may be seen to be either ridiculing Soviet attempts to create communist supermen or attacking science’s interference with nature. Finally, another interpretation of the story sees it as a parable of the 1917 Revolution in which things were set into motion which became almost uncontrollable.
‘The Heart of a Dog’ is a classic story of great intellectual value, which deserves to be read and which is immensely enjoyable for its absurdity, humour, and political message(s).
on 26 June 2008
We had Behemoth the cat in "The Master And Magarita". Now it's Sharik the dog. Sharik the hungry waif dog picked up by the brilliant scientist Preobrazhensky and fed until the fat canine starts to believe that he's entitled to the good life. But in life nothing is free. Once upon a day Sharik is drugged for a very unusual operation - the brilliant surgeon replaces the dog's genitals and pituitary glands with human ones. The dog survives the operation against all odds and then astonishingly starts to speak and behave human. Before you could say Jack Robinson rumours are flying all over Moscow and everyone wants in on the secret. The human-dog reads, attends the theatre, gets a job and is even made a citizen.
There won't be a story if that was the end of it. It wasn't and it's not long before the experiment goes horribly wonky. Preobrazhensky must now decide how to cure his monstrous construct. The story is absurd of course but it is so off the wall funny you can't put it down. When a story begins in the first person spoken by a dog with guile and a salacious sense of humour then one's fate is sealed - the book must be read.
It is well known that Bulgakov's tale is an indictment against Bolshevism. Written in 1925 the story of how a brilliant Lenin created a monster out of the proletariat was not the sort of reading material suitable for comrades. History and hindsight may now show us clearly the fault lines of Leninism but it was clear to some others within 10 years of the revolution as demonstrated by Preobrazhensky's rather incautious musings. Another 10 years and Stalin would have made mince meat of this rather proud and rash gentleman.
It is irrelevant if you have no interest in Russia or its history. This book stands on its own three feet. Outstanding.
on 16 August 2009
Being a Surgeon myself, I read this short story with great amusement. Professor Preobrazhensky, apparently altruistically, takes from off the streets, a wretched and scalded mongrel dog, named 'Sharik'.
Sharik, having started off the book, with his perambulations around Moscow; makes it clear to us, that he already has a degree of consciousness.
The Professor, a respectable world acclaimed Surgeon/ Scientist lives in some comfort in a seven roomed apartment in Moscow doubling as a consulting room and operating theatre. Here Sharik is revived and rapidly improves his physical condition.
As Sharik is beginning to trust, and feel an intense loyalty to the Professor, the situation changes dramatically. Chloroformed and manhandled, poor Sharik has the testicles and pituitary gland of a recently deceased man implanted into his 'person'.
Expecting post operative death soon after this ground breaking operation, the plucky Mongrel comes to the brink and then appears to recover with hilarious consequences.
This is where the book really takes off. After 8 days post op, the dog is heard pronouncing the word 'nessetaciled' or 'delicatessen' (backwards), soon after he stands on his hind legs, and soon after this, is heard calling the Professor a 'bloody bastard'.
Without spoiling the story further, this appalling creature with diabolical instincts starts to attempt to dominate the household, using the muscle of the local housing committee in the apartment block to disenfrachise the Professor.
By the end of the story, the Dog is a jumped up loathsome parody of the kind of career scoundrels, who literally dragged off the streets of early Soviet society, bullied and forced their way to power at the expense of the classes typified by the Professor using all the 'Organs' of power at their disposal.
Bear in mind,this book like many other classics was published only in the 80's. Yet interestingly, Bulgakov as a contemporary of Stalin was well regarded by the Dictator, and was never exiled. His criticisms are quite transparent of the system that allowed people no better than dogs in behaviour to bully their way to the top of this brave new society.
As a footnote, this story does make one more cautious on the streets as a dog and owner pass-by, making you wonder who is walking who...
on 3 July 2015
Very funny and thought inspiring book giving an insight into the views of a writer on the "unacceptable face" of the Soviet regime. I hadn't realised that Bulgakov's works were blacklisted by the authorities but can see that they might have been viewed with a degree of distrust of his anti-establishment views.
on 19 December 2010
Bulgakov is one of my favourite authors and sadly his output was modest. This short novel is immensely funny and satirical. Sharik, a mongrel dog, is rescued by a successful Doctor and is taken back to his seven roomed apartment where he is treated for his scalded flank and fed. Sharik's life becomes extremely comfortable until Bulgakov takes the story down a wonderful fantastical path with hilarious consequences and wonderful barbs at the Russian bureacracy. Although written in 1925 it was not published in Russia until 1987 and so sadly many Russians missed the opportunity of savouring its satiral look at early Post Revolution Russia.
on 15 December 2015
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 scaled 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.
on 22 August 2010
Just to put it simply, as MASTERPIECE!!!
Who would be able to make a story out of a mad scientist, a stray dog, a corpse and current political situations, into a novel of satire and comedy? well of course, Bulgakov!
Just could not stop reading, I was so absorbed and jet my thoughts went back to various aspects of soviet times, that the book depicted to well and jet camouflaged in a picturesque way.
Love the fact that the dog slowly becomes human, an is given a position in society... It does remind me of some political members in our societies, that also with their good will, can't be any better than Sharik, so for myself the story still holds parallels, not only with the Russian Revolution, but also with the character of the world as it stands.
Bulgakov's short story 'The Heart of a Dog' had to wait approximately 60 years to be published in his home country, as it was seen as much too subversive for common consumption. In it, Professor Preobrazhensky 'creates' a new kind of creature from a stray dog - Sharik - an experiement that comes to haunt him. The book increasingly turns to the absurd after that but the main message and story get across all the more clearly as a result.
The absurdity definitely adds a quite funny element to the book and it is definitely as entertaining a read as it is an enlightening one. Bulgakov's medical training also shines through, making all but the 'creation' appear much more credible than an author without such training could manage.
Given that the book was written in 1925 one cannot call Bulgakov's work a harbinger of things to come, rather a summary of some of the excesses or problematic developments already present in the Soviet society several years into the communist experiment. Some equate Preobrazhensky with Lenin and this may well have been exactly what the author intended.
If you are interested in understanding the motivations behind the communist experiment, as well as the disillusionment that followed, the book is a wonderful complement to works such as Koestler's Darkness at Noon or Arrival and Departure (Twentieth Century Classics) (the latter more to do with extremism and resistance) and I can warmly recommend it even beyond its literary qualities, impeccable as they are in their own right.
Mikhail Bulgakov (1891-1940) was one of the wittiest, most playfully subversive of writers. He was a satirist who gleefully sent up the Soviet Russia he found himself living in, with a madcap, cackling savagery. This, his first novel, completed in 1925, could only have been written by an East European, and probably only by an artist trying to make himself heard in those repressive, philistine years.
The novel begins with the eponymous dog`s voice `narrating` the tale, and switches seamlessly thereafter between the voice of the stray dog and that of our human narrator, until our hapless canine friend - who is vividly characterised throughout - is operated on by Professor Philip Philipovich...
The chapter where the operation is described is a tough read, as it goes into gory, forensic detail - the author, let`s not forget, was trained as a doctor.
The dog becomes an out-of-control `human`, with certain unfortunate human desires, but with the `heart of a dog`. The passages after the op, in which Sharik the dog gradually turns into a version of a man, are extremely funny while being oddly unsettling.
But then, the whole of this short, snappy book is both raucously funny and weirdly worrying. Half the time I felt like I was seeing the world the wrong way up, which was no doubt the author`s intention. Bulgakov was a satirical writer in the tradition of Gogol, and he has been more influential in the decades since his death than most. He would have understood and appreciated Monty Python, I`m quite sure.
I found the last few pages, the story`s denouement, a little hurried - as if the author was only too aware of his nemesis Stalin looking over his shoulder - but that`s the only quibble I can make about this wildly droll, darkly funny novel. The fact that it is so brazenly a parable of, as well as a satire on, the Russian Revolution (well under way by then) only gives it a richness and relevance that make it all the more multi-layered.
Michael Glenny`s translation seems to me to be close to impeccable, catching the impulsive, crazed, laughter-in-the-dark humour of the original.
Gogol, Chekhov, Kafka, Hasek...Bulgakov - whose novels and plays should be read by everybody. This is a great place to start.
on 14 July 2012
One mark of a good translation is that the reader does not feel as if he or she is reading one. This is certainly the case with Michael Glenny's translation of Bulgakov's The Heart of a Dog.
This book was completed in the USSR in 1925, but was not published in that country, or anywhere else, until 1987, 47 years after the author died.
The short novel was written during the era when soviet science included amongst Iwan Pavlov (of salivating dog fame) and Trofim Lysenko (of dubious genetics fame) amongst its doyens. One of principal characters in the book, the fictional Professor Preobrazhensky, a great surgeon, appears to be one of these.
His life turns upside down when he performs a peculiar series of operations on a stray dog, which he has befriended and christened `Sharik'. The dog recovers from these, and quickly begins to turn into a human being. So much so, that after a while he is able to get a job in the Moscow Municipality killing cats.
Sharik's personality is entirely at odds with the highly refined old-fashioned (reactionary) prof. Sharik is susceptible to the house committee's socialist way of thinking, drunkenness, and other forms of what might today be described as `yobbish' behaviour.
Having now read this entertaining, rather strange story, I can well undertand why the Soviet censors suppressed this subversive little tale until 1987.