A satirical novel by Mikhail Bulgakov
, short story writer, playwright, and novelist of early Soviet period.
Mikhail Bulgakov, who remains somewhat unknown in the West, is mostly known beyond Russia's borders for his masterpiece The Master and Margarita. To understand the magnitude of Bulgakov's influence on Russian people, it is enough to say that The Master and Margarita is a required reading at any university and even some high schools. Nonetheless, the majority of educated masses reads Mikhail Bulgakov independently way before it is part of school reading, not unlike the Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain is read in the United States.
Heart of a Dog is simply hilarious. The action takes place in Moscow shortly after Bolshevik Revolution of 1917. The story is a story of a homeless mutt, named Sharik, captured for experimentation by a member of rapidly shrinking Russian intelligentsia, a doctor by the name of Professor Philip Philippovich Preobrazhensky (his last name is derived from a Russian word that can be loosely translated as metamorphoses). Professor Preobrazhensky just like the author of the novel did not emigrate following the revolution.
In an almost bizzare experiment Professor P. and his loyal assistant Ivan Arnoldovich attempt to transplant human pituitary gland and testes into a dog's body. Coincidentally, the human organs were taken from a petty criminal who died minutes prior to surgery. Although modern medicine may have quite a good time with this, let us not forget that the novel was written in 1925 when little was known about the functions of aforementioned organs. In particular, it was believed that pituitary gland controlled growth and was responsible for the way a person looked. Put two and two together and you can plainly see that what Professor was trying to do is to create a human being from a dog's body.
If you think the experiment was a bit outlandish read the book and find out what happened afterwards. Giving away the rest of the story would be a crime to say the least. Fortunately, the book has been translated and is easily obtainable from any larger online retailer or even a bookstore. The book is not longer than 130 pages in its English translation, and it is a source of fascinating information about Russian history otherwise not available to English speakers. I highly encourage you to read it, but if you can read Russian then go for it.
The theme is, perhaps, the most important feature of the novel. Personally, it took me a while to fish it out of all that overwhelming hilarity and sarcasm that defines the book at first glance. Indeed, the underlying bitterness and disillusionment with Russia's state following the revolution had to be concealed for if exposed it could have cost the author his life. Look closely at this seemingly entertaining novel and you can see the clash between proletariat and intelligentsia happening right in Preobrazhensky's flat, albeit on a smaller scale. Look even closely and you can see Communists' innermost desire to create a new kind of man, man devoid of culture and traditions, man as part of larger collective uninhibited by personal ambitions and needs.
It took Russia over seventy years to come to a conclusion that this man could not exist, it took Bulgakov mere eight years to show the same. Open any history book and you can see how and where Communist experiment went awry. Open Heart of a Dog and you will see why.