A Dog’s Heart, Mikhail Bulgakov

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Last April, I took a train from San Jose to Portland. The Coast Starlite – what a romantic name for a train that was six hours late and so cold I could see my breath. The ride was made bearable (made downright enjoyable) by the company I came across in the observation car. We passed quiet hours together while I read and boisterous hours together sharing stories of our lives. Someone bought me lunch. I came away with a book recommendation from a man whose name I’ve forgotten: Evan or Michael or… something. He told me to read this book by Mikhail Bulgakov. I told him: lucky I’m going to Portland.

Portland is home to my favourite bookstore on the planet and the first place I went after catching a few hours of sleep, Powell’s Books. It’s sort of a pilgrimage. Evan or Michael or something hadn’t given me quite the right name for the book, and he couldn’t remember how to spell Bulgakov. After some creative Googling, I tracked it down. I pulled the nicest-looking copy off the shelf and went to find a few tricky Nabokovs.

Almost a year later, I’ve finally gone and read the thing. And let me tell you: Evan or Michael or something had me pegged. I’m a sucker for Russian authors and for works in translation, and I think anybody can figure that out pretty quickly. There are some turns of phrase in this translation that mark a translator of exquisite skill: “His legs lost their bones and buckled” was good enough to make me dog-ear a page. The whole idea of a stray dog turned man-beast-criminal-experiment by Soviet doctors… well, I’m going to be forcing this book on most of my friends.

Tied with another book about dogs (Fifteen Dogs), this is the best thing I’ve read all year. I owe a great deal to that stranger on the train.

Books read: 16

 

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