Describing Russian intellectual life in fiction
Mikhail Bulgakov wrote his tight, absurdist masterpiece, “The Heart of a Dog” in 1925, but it would not see the light of day in the Soviet Union until 1987. Thus was the beginning of Bulgakov’s long and tortuous relationship with political power.
The U.S.S.R. was not a good place, nor was it a good time, to write with a biting sense of humor.
When he settled in Moscow in 1921 and quit medicine to pursue journalism and literature, Bulgakov began to explore the contradictions of socialism, the problem of housing, and the absurdities of bureaucracy. In short, Bulgakov reflected upon the preoccupations of Muscovites and the rules that governed life in the city.
The year after he arrived in Moscow, the OGPU (the secret police of the Soviet Union from 1922 to 1934) started keeping a secret file on the writer.
The apparent motive is trivial: Bulgakov published an article in a Berlin magazine announcing his intention to create a bibliographic dictionary of contemporary Russian authors without distinguishing between those who lived in the Soviet Union and those living in exile.
This news was received with suspicion by the government: Writers who lived abroad were considered enemies of the people.
In secret report number II0, an informer explained that Mikhail Bulgakov gave a reading of his new novel to the literary circle he moved in. The novel was titled “The Heart of a Dog.”
“The entire work is written in hostile tones and breathes an infinite contempt upon the Soviet order…,” the writer of the report concluded.
Suspicions about the writer began to grow and the OGPU tracked his movements. It was right at that time when Bulgakov began to enjoy some success thanks to the publication of his first novel, “The White Guard,” and also “Diavoliada,” his collection of satirical stories about Soviet life.