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Heart of a Dog Paperback – January 21, 1994

4.1 out of 5 stars 90 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews


Dystopian novelette by Mikhail Bulgakov, written in Russian in 1925 as Sobachye serdtse. It was published posthumously in the West in 1968, both in Russian and in translation, and in the Soviet Union in 1987. The book is a satirical examination of one of the goals of the October Revolution of 1917: to create a new breed of man, uncorrupted by the past and above petit bourgeois concerns. In addressing this subject The Heart of a Dog savages the rigid Soviet mind-set, science fiction, and a pseudoscientific theory of the 1920s that held out the promise of sexual rejuvenation through surgical transplantation of monkey glands. -- The Merriam-Webster Encyclopedia of Literature

About the Author

Mikhail Bulgakov (1891?1940) was a doctor, novelist, playwright, short-story writer, and assistant director of the Moscow Arts Theater

Ginsburg is renowned for her many translations and adaptations of eastern European tales.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 123 pages
  • Publisher: Grove Press; Reprint edition (January 21, 1994)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0802150594
  • ISBN-13: 978-0802150592
  • Product Dimensions: 5.4 x 0.4 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (90 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #24,026 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By A Customer on December 27, 2001
Format: Paperback
From a native Russian speaker, just a few remarks which hopefully will help you understand the book better:
1. Professor Preobrazhensky is modeled on professor Pavlov (of the salivating dogs fame), who himself is well known for a few remarks such as "for the kind of experiment the Communists are conducting on Russia I wouldn't sacrifice even a frog" and "a revolution is not an excuse for being 20 minutes late for work" (to a lab assistant who got caught in street shooting).
2. The book lashes out - VIOLENTLY - at working class, at lumpenproletariat (and in Soviet Russia these two terms were dangerously close for much of the 20th century). Please remember that when you're reading about Sharikov - the caricature of a heavily-drinking, crude Soviet worker (if you've ever spent time in small industrial towns in Russia, you'll be able to understand this book easily)
3. Sharik is a cliche nickname for dogs in Russia (something like Spot). Sharikov is akin to a dog taking the last name Spotter for himself.
4. Polygraph Polygraphovich sounds as ridiculous in English as it does in Russian :)
Some of my anglophone friends had problems with this 1925 book. Just trying to be helpful...
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Mikhail Bulgakov, best known for his brilliant novel "The Master and Margarita" was steeped in the theatrical craft. When his books were censored, he wrote a wild, heartfelt letter to authorities in Soviet Russia, asking that, if they were not to be allowed to publish his work, would they then assign him to work in theater, even as a lowly stagehand. In one of Stalin's capricious moves, Bulgakov was, indeed, assigned to work as an assistant director at a Moscow theater.
Meanwhile, Bulgakov continued to amass what must be one of the world's great hordes of literary work unpublished in the lifetime of an author. "Heart of a Dog" is probably his most viciously anti-Soviet, anti-Proletariat work, and it reads like a cross between Orwell's "Animal Farm" and Mary Shelley's "Frankenstein" but with Bulgakov's intense sarcasm and humor thrown in. The book is so dramatic, it's almost impossible to read it without seeing it run like a film or play behind your eyes as you read it.
A professor (whose Russian name is a play on the scientist Pavlov) adopts a mongrel dog. The dog Sharik (Fido, Rover...) is grateful! His life on the street has been hard, he's been kicked, scalded with hot water and he is starving. The professor feeds him well. Ah, he's gaining weight and healing up. What a nice man! A god, even, well, to a dog. But wait a minute! The professor, noted surgeon that he is, is preparing to operate. He seizes the dog....
And then we see the results of the professor's cruel experiment. A dog gets a human brain portion and begins to develop as a human. But he isn't a nice friendly, tail-wagging human. Oh, no. He's low, a cur, yes, a dog of a man who chases cats uncontrollably, pinches women's bottoms and drinks like a fish (oops mixed metaphor there.
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It's just something about those Russians. I guess because they've had to put up with so much turmoil, for so long, historically; or it could be those long Russian winters; but for whatever reason they have produced a steady stream of excellent satirists for the past two hundred years. Refer to Nikolai Leskov's LAUGHTER AND GRIEF, for a mid 19th century examination of the phenomenon from someone who first noticed it. Leskov's narrator, Vatahvskov, states in a conversation amongst his colleagues that the feature most singular in Russian society is "its abundance of unpleasant surprises."
Which brings me to Bulgakov and to HEART OF A DOG, for it is a novella full of "unpleasant surprises," both happening to and instigated by, Bulgakov's singular literary creation, Sharik (aka Mr. Sharik, aka Citizen Sharikov, aka Polygraph Polygraphovich Sharikov, commisar of cat control, etc.) Bulgakov takes an absurd situation (think of Gogol's "nose" wandering around the streets of St. Petersburg for comparison) and crafts it into a wonderful parody of the societal madhouse that was 30s Moscow under the party's intolerable decrees. His is a portrait of political correctness run amok. Citizen Shvonder, the representation of all things banal about the collectivist mentality of the era is the Bulgakov's primary target in this regard. His jealous rage at the fact that professor Phillipov is living the high life, while he and his ilk are sharing one room apartments, remains comically ineffectual. It was Bulgakov's way at getting back at all of the party appartchiks that were in fact causing him a great deal of consternation and physical hardship at the time.
A reviewer who was critical of this work as being too much akin to a Chagall painting was drawing an accurate analogy.
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Bulgakov was a true Russian genius, but one who lacked the "politically correct" postures of other less talented soviet hacks. As a result, his works were nearly unknown in his lifetime. But gradually, his books have been published and translated and with each book his stature grows. Bulgakov may stand with Myakovsky, Mandelstam, Akmatova, Shostakovitch and Malevich as the greatest artistic minds to come from the Soviet Union.
The Heart of a Dog is a great book, perhaps not as multifaceted as Bulgakov's masterpiece, Master and Margarita, but brilliant nonetheless. The book seems perhaps a combination of Gogol's The Nose, and Kafka's Metamorphosis. Sharik - a perfectly normal stray dog is adopted by a famous scientist who transplants the testes and pituitary gland of criminal. Sharik gradually develops into a lewd, drunken cur of a man who is fabulously successful in the new Soviet society.
As Joanna Daneman says in a previous review, Bulgakov's theatrical background is highly visible in this work. Each chapter is crafted like a distinct scene...the comedy is often extremely broad. Sharik is as pointed and broad a caricature of The New Soviet Man...as seen from it's dark underbelly. Many of the scenes are almost broad slapstick. And yet, the humor, while broad, is also quite bitter. It is obvious that Bulgakov saw the deterioration of his society and was deeply disturbed by it.
Bulgakov's disdain of the Proletariat is a bit disturbing to an American. After all, we are the country of the common man. And there is a hidden "snobbery" in the work, which can be a bit hard to take. But so much of the book is dead on...and it is extremely funny. Heart of a Dog is an enjoyable and important addition to the growing Bulgakov oeuvre.
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