Shannon (Giraffe Days)'s Reviews > Heart of a Dog

Heart of a Dog by Mikhail Bulgakov
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's review
Nov 13, 2007

really liked it
bookshelves: book-club, magical-realism, sci-fi, 2007, speculative-fiction, satire
Read in December, 2007

Written in Russian in 1925 by the author of The Master and Margarita (his more famous book, which is on my to-read list), Heart of a Dog upset the Communist sensibilities so much that it was banned in Russia until the 80s. That should give some indication of the flippancy of this book, though it was probably quite easy to upset the Russian Communists (as I learned from reading Darkness at Noon).

It follows the story of Sharikh, a stray dog who follows a man home because he offers him sausage. The man, Professor Philip Philoppovich Preobrazhensky, is a kind of doctor who specialises in putting animal parts - namely sexual organs - into human patients. He's wealthy, a bougois oasis within the Communist machine, keeping his lavish 7-room apartment with the help of his high-profiled clients. Another doctor, young Bormenthal, assists him, and he has two female servants - another luxory, to be sure. Needless to say, the building's Housing Committee hate him.

His latest experiment involves taking a human man's testicles and his pituitary gland and inserting them into Sharikh. The man is dead, the dog unconscious, and against the odds he survives. The experiment was part of the professor's search for rejuvenation, but instead the dog becomes a kind-of human man. He starts to talk, he loses most of his fur, he stands upright. But his habits are filthy, his temper bad, his intellect questionable. To make matters worse, he lets Shvonder of the Housing Committee educate him in the communist ways, and gets a job ridding Moscow of cats.

This is a fascinating, funny book full of ideas and themes. I was rather surprised that, among the nine people present at the book club meeting, a few like me really liked it, some were neutral, and some really didn't like it. We could come to no concensus on what it was really about, or even if we were reading too much into it. One idea is about the animal-like qualities of the Communists, another about forcing foreign ideas into people's heads before they're ready for them, as the "foreign" patuitary gland is put into Sharikh's. There were lots more ideas but, sadly, they've slipped my mind just now (the meeting was two days ago).

But I loved the tongue-in-cheek humour and irony, the moments of silliness which was refreshing after recently reading other Russian heavy-weights like Darkness at Noon and Anna Karenina. I loved the writing style: Bulgakov is able to conjure images in your head with only a few words. Having read this, I'm really looking forward to reading his more well-known book, The Master and Margarita, which I had never heard of until recently (and when I was looking for this book, it took me a while to realise it was the same author! Yep, I'm a complete twit).
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message 2: by Anita (new) - added it

Anita I hadn't thought of Master and Margarita in years - I remember thinking it was really good, and rather strange, but not much else. Thanks for reminding me of it! Check out Skinny Legs and All by Tom Robbins if you haven't already. Also, A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving. There's a third one that I read around the same time that hit high on the Kafka-esque-wierd-o-meter that I really liked, but I've forgotten the name - it was about a circus freak family where the mom took lots of drugs while pregnant to increase the odds of having freak babies. At least two kids come of it (maybe 3?), one is a boy with fins instead of limbs. He starts a religious cult where people amputate fingers, toes, arms, legs, to be more like the "perfect" form that he is. The daughter eventually has her own daughter who has a pigs tail. I think the book was written as a letter trying to convince the pigs tail girl not to amputate the tail. If anyone remembers the name of this book or the author, let me know. It was good. Also, Christopher Moore does fabulous wierd stuff in his books - I love his vampire books, Lamb, and the whale one.

Shannon (Giraffe Days) I have A Prayer for Owen Meany at home, a friend of mine strongly recommended it. I haven't read anything by Irvine yet but I also grabbed Cider House Rules simply based on the movie, which I enjoyed. Hmm, fins instead of legs... Sounds interesting, no idea what it might be called though.

I've read Lamb and I have his two vampire books also at home. I just don't have enough time!

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