Recently Read by Phil...
Heart of a Dog by Michael Bulgakov.
Has it been a while since you laughed out loud? To say Heart of a dog, Michael Bulgakov’s early Soviet-era satirical novel about life in post-revolutionary Moscow, is hilarious is an understatement. My Daughter the Genius tipped me off to this one. A sorry and sick dog is one inch from dying on the street of abuse and starvation when he is befriended by an urbane physician, whose specialty is rejuvenating treatments involving transplantation of glands and organs from beast to man. As an historic experiment, the doctor reverse-transplants the pituitary and sex organs of a young Muscovite who dies under mysterious circumstances into the dog, who then begins to undergo a very amazing, funny and unsettling metamorphosis. He is transformed physically from dog to man, sort of, and is revealed to have acquired human speech and attitudes along the way. Among the dog-man’s first utterances are "delicatessen," "you heel," "take one home for the kiddies," and "make that a double." The creature becomes friends with the revolutionary committee in the doctor’s apartment house and gradually assumes a position in the doctor’s life that is, well, hard to describe. Read it: Heart of a dog by Michael Bulgakov.
Poems new and collected by Wislawa Szymborska.
Poetry scares me because I have the morbid fear of being either embarrassed or bored reading it. My Daughter the Genius is responsible for showing me the way to Wislawa Szymborska, the Nobel Prize-winning poet, who is a Polish living national treasure and possibly the greatest living poet on the Earth today. Her poems are clear, accessible, startling in their simplicity, and yet profound, and wise beyond description. Szymborska takes ordinary events and life situations and applies a special, almost god-like touch, to turn the chaos of our everyday existence into the perfect order of a perfect poem. A nice collection is Poems new and collected, with translations by Stanislaw Baranczak and Clare Cavanagh. Here is one:
True love. Is it normal,
is it serious, is it practical?
What does the world get from two people
who exist in a world of their own?
Placed on the same pedestal for no good reason,
drawn randomly from millions, but convinced
it had to happen this way--in reward for what? For nothing.
The light descends from nowhere.
Why on these two and not others?
Doesn't this outrage justice? Yes it does.
Doesn't it disrupt our painstakingly erected principles,
and cast the moral from the peak? Yes on both accounts.
Look at the happy couple.
Couldn't they at least try to hide it,
fake a little depression for their friends' sake!
Listen to them laughing--it's an insult.
The language they use--deceptively clear.
And their little celebrations, rituals,
the elaborate mutual routines--
it's obviously a plot behind the human race's back!
It's hard even to guess how far things might go
if people start to follow their example.
What could religion and poetry count on?
What would be remembered? what renounced?
Who'd want to stay within bounds?
True love. Is it really necessary?
Tact and common sense tell us to pass over it in silence,
like a scandal in Life's highest circles.
Perfectly good children are born without its help.
It couldn't populate the planet in a million years,
it comes along so rarely.
Let the people who never find true love
keep saying that there's no such thing.
Their faith will make it easier for them to live and die.
Translated by Stanislaw Baranczak and Clare Cavanagh