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Shvoong Home>Books>Classic Literature>Heart of a Dog Review

Heart of a Dog

Book Review   by:Katusha     Original Author: Mihail Afanasevich Bulgakov
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This abstract was translated from Собачье сердце
 
Mikhail Afanasevich Bulgakov's novel "Heart of a Dog" is written as a fusion of the sci-fi and political satire genres, finely balancing on the edge of grotesque. However, the paradoxical nature of the subject, the depth and creative expression of the ideas as well as the multi thematic abstractions threaded through the novel take it beyond either the tragedy/comedy or sci-fi genres as it may appear to the unschooled reader, the novel having been dragged into the proverbial Proctrustes bed of those genres by politics of the time along with many readers and the author's contemporaries. The plot of "Heart of a Dog" takes place in the 1920's of Soviet Russia, where in the aftermaths of the revolution's chaos a new prototype of human being was being born, one disconnected from the limitations of ethics and culture, and ruled merely by animalistic instinct, and consciously using the new government as a base to create "man of the future." The few representatives of the old intelligency and different privileged others in an old estate lead a pathetic existence in a triumphant victory of boorishness, rarely losing a chance to spew their rage. Professor Preobrazhenski - the novel's lead character - continues, however, to live in a many-roomed Muscovite apartment, having escaped the "compression" of other tenants into it, exclusively due to his world-renowned abilities as an amazing specialist in the area of healing sexual dysfunctions and general rejuvenation of the body. Specifically for the attainment of unprecedented results in slowing down the processes of aging, the professor takes on a truly revolutionary (key word of the epoch!) experiment: transplanting specific bodily glands of a recently deceased human being into a dog. For this reason he lures a homeless, hungry, and sick street mutt and leaves him at home awaiting a "befitting corpse". In the first chapters of the novel the voice of the narrator is of "one to whom much favor has been granted", the professor's dog. In terms of expressiveness and psychology, these beginning chapters have few equals in Russian literature. The display of general dehumanization, seen with the eyes of a homeless, persecuted, and unknowing of any other life animal, allows us to understand and feel the atmosphere of post-revolutionary Moscow deeper and more piercingly than through volumes of historic research.
The main part of the novel begins with the idea that the operation, intended by the professor as an ordinary experiment, lacking any acute chances for success, gives entirely unexpected, entirely impossible to fit into any theory results: the dog with the gland transplants begins to gradually turn into a man! As a result of the transformation, before us no longer stands a mutt named Sharik*, a product, in his own sense, of the "revolution" - that same awaited "man of the future", but a lastnamed Sharikov, one without a past, yet with colossal pretensions. Within days he turns the lives of those living in the apartment - the professor, his assistant doctor Bormental, and the kitchen main Dar Pertrovna - into a nightmare. Slowly - being ideologically "bound" by the professor's arch enemy, house-manager Shvonder - and receiving the status of a full fledged citizen of the new society, Sharikov begins to behave as master of the house, after which the doctor's patience comes to an end. A secondary operation (done, as opposed to the first one, with applied physical force) returns Sharikov his original - dog - nature, and the house - peace and quiet. In the final scene of the novel we see the professor, peacefully sitting in a chair, and at his feet - a peaceful devoted Sharik, completely devoid of the memory of having been a man. However, the authentic depth and keen philosophy of the novel is indiscernible from a simple reiteration of its plot. Having read this incredibly tense and saturated with soul of the time piece, a thoughtfr will be able to feel the real essence of the Russian revolution, and behind the grotesque scenes - to discern the genuine tragedy of the epoch. * Translator's note: Sharik is an endearing term for the word "ball" - a common Russian name for dogs.
Published: April 07, 2006   
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