on December 27, 2001
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...
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Meanwhile, Bulgakov continued to amass what must be one of the world's great hordes of literary work unpublished in the lifetime of an author.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.) He demands to be registered and get papers like a human being in Soviet society. And the authorities are anxious, even rabid to assist him. Sharikov takes a first name and patronymic that is so inappropriate, so hysterically funny that you have to laugh out loud. Then he gets a prominent job as a purge director, eliminating those counter-revolutionary cats from Moscow's pure Communist society. That is, until the professor cooks up a plot.
This is a gem of a book. Bulgakov shares Orwell's deep hatred of totalitarianism, but unlike the delicate satire of Orwell, Bulgakov writes with massive belly laughs of deeply sarcastic humor and over-the-top jokes. He's a dramatist at heart, and this book shows his theatrical thinking, where exaggerated movement and stage props play as much a role in exposition as dialog.
This is a true small masterpiece and should appeal to just about anyone. It would be a very good book for a high school or college literature study. It is really wonderful, and prepares the reader for Bulgakov's wildly out of control masterpiece "Master and Margarita." Don't miss this book for anything!
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. Yet, coming from a perspective in which magical realism has become an accepted literary technique, I don't consider that a drawback. It is part of the same Russian tradition. The fanciful and the grotesque have long been an integral part of Russian fiction. Bulgakov is simply one of its more famous and adept practitioners.
on December 11, 2013
Steer clear of this version. Another great story rendered unreadable by a por scan. Typos and poor formatting make this wonderful story torturous to read, which may be very in keeping with Russian literary themes. However, I'm American by way of France, so I prefer my metaphors a bit less meta. Heart of a Dog is a wonderful novel, do yourself a favor and get it. Just not this one.
on December 28, 2012
This is the adapted play, not the original novel, so please adjust the description accordingly, so other purchasers are aware of this. Additionally, my seller will not refund me the original shipping costs nor the return shipping costs as they "shipped the correct item according to ISBN" and Half.com wrote the review - they cannot change the review either. so, i'm out two shipping costs, and still did not get the correct gift! Totally sucks.
on May 4, 2011
This is a dramatization written by Frank Galati and based on the book by Bulgakov. Bulgakov also wrote a play based on this story but this is not it. DO NOT BUY THIS IF YOU ARE LOOKING FOR THE NOVEL "HEART OF A DOG"!!!!
on December 4, 2012
This is NOT the novel by Bulgakov, but rather a rather short play interpretation. It says that NOWHERE in the description. Just a heads up.
on May 17, 2003
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.
on May 18, 2014
Mikhail Bulgakov is a master of the outlandish and the surreal. And this book is full of both. Just when you think Bulgakov can’t get any more outrageous, he surprises you with odd twists and turns. The novella begins with a charming tale of a stray dog but this is no Walt Disney tale, for this dog becomes the pet of a renowned Moscow professor of medicine who plants human glands into the dog’s body and the dog becomes a monstrosity. Communism has presented itself to the world as a scientific political theory and I felt like Bulgakov was trying to tell us that despite the science behind Communism, the brute aspects of humanity can’t be washed away. As a sub-human, part-dog creature, we see behaviors that are rude, boorish, violent, but all too human. Human nature, including the worst aspects of human nature, exists even after scientific Communism has taken over. The goal of creating a new breed of man, which was one of the goals of Communism, is impossible and backfires in the writing of Bulgakov. I am reminded of his masterpiece, the Master and Margarita, where the Communist outlaw God but they forgot to outlaw the Devil. The book was written at a time when there were physicians who were injecting patients with hormones or glands of sheep fetus or monkey gonads to bring about everlasting youth or sexual stamina. Bulgakov takes this theme and runs with it.
The dog Sharik becomes the human Sharikov, and as such becomes the image of the dull intelligence, short temper, crudeness, non-verbal, non-rationalizing, violent, prejudicial, of the worst group of lower class, lower income persons. Bulgakov would have us see that the Communist experiment can allow this type of person to gain power and influence and to be very socially destructive in their actions. Moscow must have been chaos in the 1930’s as one complete political and economic system is being replaced by another, and thus there is much room for human brutes to rise in a totalitarian system that allowed no dissent.
I don’t want to give the impression that the book is all ideology, since in fact, it is highly inventive, entertaining, and outrageously satiric. The scenes are vivid and well written, easily imagined. I recommend this short book. It reminded me of the George Orwell’s Animal Farm mixed with Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein. I know other reviewers have made this comparison but it is a great description of the book to someone who has not yet read it.
on October 21, 2014
As science fiction this is a so-so book. As an allegory of Soviet life at the time Bulgakov was writing, it's definitely better. It's no wonder little of his work was published during Stalin's lifetime.
The idea of taking an animal and making it into a human is as old as the hills, and despite the doctor's skills, it's pretty unbelievable that transplanting the testes and pituitary gland of a recently deceased man into a medium-sized dog he's rescued from the streets is going to do anything, especially not the results that develop. However, I did enjoy the early pages, which are told in first-person by the dog.
Once the surgery is completed and the patient survives, the doctor and his assistant don't rush to tell the world. What they end up with is a smallish man with no table manners, a garish taste in clothes and a distressing interest in catching and killing cats. However, a little reading of Engels and the dog/man aligns himself with the Communist busybodies who inhabit most of the building outside the doctor's multi-room suite. Ultimately, the doctor and his assistant reverse the surgery, with the doctor opining that there are already too many people in the world without seeking to make more. At the end, the dog is looking forward to sleeping in front of the fire.
I don't think this is a book for everyone. I'm grateful that I have been reading Russian writers for many years and also have knowledge of the history of the Soviet Union. However, I suspect I may have missed some of the inside jokes, particularly with the names of the characters. Still, it's probably a good introduction to Bulgakov, and I'm currently reading some of his other works.