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
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.