What book to read? Which are the best authors? What do other people think of the book I like? What is the purpose of life? Why are we here? Is there more in life? These are all valid questions. Hooligan Hamlet is trying to answer at least some of these with our new column “Hooligan Book Club” mainly curated by digital marketing specialist / sportsgirl / fashion icon / socialmedia influencer Liisa Ennuste. This is a book CLUB, so you are very much welcome to join by writing us what do you think and feel about these books, have you read, are you planning to read etc.
Already the third Hooligan Book Club book review is about a book called “Heart of a dog” by Mikhail Bulgakov.
Hooligan Book Club: Heart of a dog – Mikhail Bulgakov
by Liisa Ennuste
August was a fruitful month – I managed to finish 4 books, so it wasn’t easy to pick what to write about. However, as I read The Master & Margarita from Bulgakov earlier this year and it topped my book charts (yet I didn’t have a chance to review it) I decided dig into his second famous work – Heart of a Dog.
Heart of a Dog is a satire-loaded story about a stray dog, who is enticed to a beautiful home by a renowned doctor and through a scary operation, is implanted with the pituitary gland and genitals of a deceased criminal. This procedure transforms him/it into a beast-like hybrid — inheriting more characteristics from the convict than from the poor little dog.
The short novel has more layers you can spot from the surface. I think being familiar with the political order of the time when the author wrote this story, is essential. Bulgakov was 33 years old, and it was the early years of Soviet Union (1925), which prohibited him from publishing nearly all of his (later successful) works. The manuscript of Heart of a Dog was confiscated and finally published in Russia in 1987 (47 years after Bulgakov’s death). Bulgakov was in an interesting position, where his creative freedom was oppressed by the regime, yet he was favoured by Stalin himself, who even got him a job at the Moscow Art Theatre and went to see one of his plays more than 15 times. The censorship, however, made the writer depressed and he poured his wildest creativity and emotions into his final novel – The Master and Margarita (you’ll understand that when you read it).
The way I see it, the book is about two main themes.
First of all, it is a satirical, provocative gesture against the Soviet regime, communism and the lazy, irresponsible people it produces. The professor/surgeon in the book seems like a reflection of Bulgakov himself – they both were educated men, with a degree in medicine, annoyed by the rude and simple minds of the “comrades” and the inefficiency of the regime.
The professor in the book is very vocal about his anti-socialist views and this is illustrated by the constant arguments he has with the Bolshevik housing committee he needs to deal with throughout the book. Yet, the professor knows that his views might ultimately have consequences & even his fame will not save him from his fate (of possibly being murdered or sent to a labour camp).
The book is written in a light and funny manner, but when you start thinking about the back story, it does become sad.
Secondly, Bulgakov examines the question of “what makes us human”. For the author it is the idea of morals, etiquette and what are the essentials of a civilized human being. A dog named Sharik is hauled on to an operating table, inserted the genitals and a pituitary gland (a tiny organ at the base of your brain) of a human (deceased criminal in this case). The creature, who wakes up on the operating table, walks on two legs and starts swearing and smoking instantly. He speaks – profanities – takes no responsibility, steals from comrades alike and does not show respect for anything.
Towards the end of the book, police investigators visit the professor, questioning him about the possible crimes against Sharik. (side note: the officers were of course tipped off by the Bolshevik housing committee who were not on great terms with the professor)
Officer: ‘I’m sorry, professor, not a dog. This happened when he was a man. That’s the trouble.’
‘Because he talked?’ asked the professor. ‘That doesn’t mean he was a man.”
To wrap it up – I mean, I love satire and thus I love Bulgakov’s style. The way he can be so entertaining and funny on subjects that are so serious and often depressing. Everything in his books is on point.