Friday, October 28, 2016

Heart of a Dog, by Mikhail Bulgakov

Heart of a Dog is a strange little book.  It was written in 1925 by Mikhail Bulgakov, but it was decades before it ever saw publication.  The subversive, thinly-veiled social commentary did not meet the approval of Communist officials, who banned it.  It wasn't published in the Soviet Union until 1987.

What's so dangerous about this story?  Like many stories of its kind, it can be read on a number of levels.  A Russian scientist brings home a stray dog, who is grateful for good food and a comfortable home.  Once the dogs is healed up (he had been burned by scalding water) and given some good nutrition, the scientist tries a little experiment.  He transplants human testicles and pituitary gland into the dog.  To his surprise, the dog is transformed, taking on human form.  While this might have been a cause for celebration at the scientific breakthrough, the dog/man causes no end of trouble for the scientist.  He is not, shall we say, a model member of society or a welcome house guest.

Bulgakov reminds me of Kafka and H.G. Wells, although he's surely a notch or two below them in the quality of writing and social commentary.  The story overshadows any political message Bulgakov might have tried to make, and the story itself isn't that compelling.  However, Heart of a Dog is definitely worth reading, if nothing else because it's a cultural artifact, a rare voice of dissension from the early days of the Soviet Union.  

2016 Reading Challenge: A book by or about a Russian

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