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About the Author
Table of Contents
The Master and MargaritaIntroduction
A Note on the Text and Acknowledgments
1. Never Talk with Strangers
2. Pontius Pilate
3. The Seventh Proof
4. The Chase
5. There were Doings at Griboedov's
6. Schizophrenia, as was Said
7. A Naughty Apartment
8. The Combat between the Professor and the Poet
9. Koroviev's Stunts
10. News from Yalta
11. Ivan Splits in Two
12. Black Magic and Its Exposure
13. The Hero Enters
14. Glory to the Cock!
15. Nikanor Ivanovich's Dream
16. The Execution
17. An Unquiet Day
18. Hapless Visitors
20. Azazello's Dream
22. By Candlelight
23. The Great Ball at Satan's
24. The Extraction of the Master
25. How the Procurator Tried to Save Judas of Kiriath
26. The Burial
27. The End of Apartment No. 50
28. The Last Adventures of Koroviev and Behemoth
29. The Fate of the Master and Margarita is Decided
30. It's Time! It's Time!
31. On Sparrow Hills
32. Forgiveness and Eternal Refuge
What People are Saying About This
“My favorite novel—it’s just the greatest explosion of imagination, craziness, satire, humor, and heart.” —Daniel Radcliffe
Reading Group Guide
Why would the devil pay a visit to a contemporary city, and what sort of business would he conduct there? What seems a fanciful premise was perhaps less so for a persecuted writer in the Soviet Union under Stalin. Mikhail Bulgakov completed his novel The Master and Margarita just before his death in 1940, but it remained officially unpublished until 1966, whereupon it achieved the status of an underground masterpiece.
In the book's first chapter, the devil appears briefly to Berlioz, a literary magazine editor, as "a transparent citizen," a "phantasm" (p. 8) that disappears after Berlioz closes and opens his eyes. Then, in the midst of a conversation between Berlioz and Ivan, a poet, about whether Jesus was real or fictitious, the devil appears to both of them and joins their conversation, looking only unusual enough to be thought "a foreigner" (p. 10). He is troubled by their atheism and their corresponding belief that humans determine their own fate. Besides assuring them that Jesus did in fact exist, the devil predicts the precise manner in which Berlioz will die, and he turns out to be right. Slipping on spilled sunflower oil in the third chapter, Berlioz falls onto the rails of an oncoming tram-car, which severs his head. From this beginning, we might assume that Woland (the name Bulgakov eventually gives the devil) will perpetrate evil and, while he is at it, prove the powerlessness of humans to predict or control the future. But the novel's epigraph, from Goethe's Faust, has prepared us for something else; it is a question asked by Faust, answered by Mephistopheles: " '...who are you, then?'/'I am part of that power which eternally/wills evil and eternally works good.' "
Insofar as Woland's evil manifests itself in the sudden, menacing disappearance of various characters, as well as the deaths of Berlioz and Baron Meigel, he inevitably reminds us of how Stalin dealt with actual and potential political enemies. But Woland is also a force for good, as evidenced by his orchestration of the reunion of the novel's other central figures—the master, an unnamed novelist whose manuscript has been publicly denounced and denied publication, and Margarita, his married lover. Moral ambiguity is central to the novel. As Woland says to Matthew Levi, "what would your good do if evil did not exist, and what would the earth look like if shadows disappeared from it?" (p. 360).
The interconnectedness of opposing ideas or concepts, frequently demonstrated by strange reversals, is one of the principles upon which the novel is constructed. Near the middle of the book, the personal secretary for the head of the Commission on Spectacles and Entertainment of the Lighter Type describes an encounter between her boss, Prokhor Petrovich, and Koroviev, one of Woland's retinue. Annoyed by Koroviev's assertiveness, Petrovich quickly loses patience, shouting, "What is all this? Get him out of here, devil take me!" Koroviev is only too happy to oblige: "Devil take you? That, in fact, can be done!" (p. 189). Petrovich is thereafter nothing but a suit, though one which continues to go about Petrovich's business and speak with his voice. This incident is but one example of a running joke in the novel—its characters invoke the devil in a figure of speech, only to have their words make even more literal than figurative sense. Like all deeply funny jokes, this one is in the service of a serious idea. The distinctions we draw between the literal and the figurative—or between good and evil, real and imagined, life and death, art and reality, the material world and the spiritual world—have a certain kind of utility. They bring order to the randomness and chaos of personal experience. But they also limit our sense of what is possible. What Bulgakov's novel suggests is that when order is imposed externally—such as the extreme measures employed by Woland to emphasize human powerlessness or by Stalin to maintain political power—the personal experience of those upon whom order is imposed becomes so detached from reality that the feeling of randomness and chaos is heightened, not reduced.
If Woland, despite his resemblance to Stalin, is too complex to fit inside a simple framework of good and evil, so too are the master and Margarita. It may be tempting to see the master as a representation of the pure artist made to suffer in an environment that can accommodate neither him nor his art. But we are given to understand, though indirectly, that Yeshua (the name given to Jesus in the master's manuscript) considered cowardice among the worst of vices, and we must ask if it is not cowardice that causes the master to try to burn his manuscript. Also, when considering what the master's fate will be, Woland agrees with Matthew Levi's assessment that the master "does not deserve the light, he deserves peace" (p. 361). Is peace a greater or lesser reward than light?
Margarita is even more complicated. Though her husband is "young, handsome, kind, honest, and adore[s] his wife" (p. 217), only the master makes her happy. It's never entirely clear whether Woland or the police are responsible for the master's disappearance, but a member of Woland's retinue, Azazello, offers to reunite them if Margarita will agree to become a witch and host Woland's ball. Woland's power frightens her, but she alone among the novel's characters uses it for her own—often altruistic—ends. Perhaps the most striking example is Margarita's request, when Woland offers her a reward for hosting the ball, that Frieda be released from her eternal torment, the nightly appearance of the handkerchief with which she suffocated her baby. Unlike Faust, Margarita is happy to have made her bargain with Woland; when she wakes up the morning after the ball back in the natural world, everything is "as if it ought to have been so" (p. 331). Is it her love, albeit adulterous, for the master that prevails? Is it her commitment to the value of his art? Since she and the master leave this world at the end of the novel, what kind of triumph does she achieve?
In a sense, Bulgakov's novel follows them. The final chapter concludes in the supernatural world, and the epilogue concludes in the novel's material world. But both ultimately end with the last sentence of the master's manuscript, as if to suggest that only in art do we ever find complete resolution. Throughout the novel, Bulgakov has exploited art's capacity to represent the unassimilable, the unfathomable, the illogical. At the same time, he reminds us of its related capacity to fulfill dreams. The results elicit terror, laughter, sadness, and wonder.
ABOUT MIKHAIL BULGAKOV
Born in 1891 in Kiev, now the capital of Ukraine, Mikhail Bulgakov studied medicine at Kiev University, practicing briefly before being drafted by the Whites (anti-Bolsheviks) in 1918 as a field doctor. He was sent to the Caucasus, where, after leaving the military, he began working as a journalist. Along with humorous sketches, Bulgakov wrote White Guard (1924), an autobiographical novel about his experience in the civil war and one of the first serious works of literature on the subject. The Days of the Turbins (1926), a play based on White Guard, was supposedly one of Joseph Stalin's favorites and helped establish Bulgakov as one of Russia's preeminent playwrights.
However, the reaction of the press to Bulgakov's plays in an ever more ideologically rigid society was hostile, and all of his plays were banned in 1929. He wrote to the government about his plight, and Stalin replied, sending him to work at the Moscow Art Theatre. Bulgakov adapted Gogol's Dead Souls and Cervantes' Don Quixote for the stage, but he also wrote plays about Moliére and Pushkin that portrayed the conflict between artists and repressive governments. His works were usually banned once they began public performances, and so Bulgakov took a position as a librettist with the Bolshoi Opera in 1936. In 1939, he attempted a return to drama, as well as the good graces of the Soviet authorities, by writing Batum, a play about Stalin's early years as a revolutionary, but it was banned before rehearsals started.
Bulgakov began working on The Master and Margarita, his masterpiece, as early as 1928; he dictated the final revisions weeks before his death in 1940. In 1932, he married his third wife, Elena Sergeevna, thought to be a model for Margarita. Bulgakov knew he could never publish such a subversive novel during his lifetime. The existence of the manuscript was unknown to all but a small group of people until Moskva, a monthly magazine, finally published it, heavily censored, in two parts in 1966 and 1967.
- Why does Woland come to Moscow? Why does he give a public performance at the Variety Theater?
- Why is Woland the instrument of Margarita's kindness toward Frieda and the master?
- When Woland sees Margarita's compassion for Pilate, why does he tell her, "Everything will turn out right, the world is built on that"? (p. 382)
- Why has the master earned peace, but not light?
- Why does Pilate dream that he is involved in an "interesting and endless" argument with Yeshua, "this philosopher, who had thought up such an incredibly absurd thing as that all men are good," and that Yeshua's execution never took place? (p. 319)
- Why must Margarita become a witch and host Woland's ball in order to rescue and be reunited with the master?
- Why does Margarita become devoted to the master's novel?
- Why is the story of Pontius Pilate presented as not only written by the master, but also told by Woland, dreamed by Ivan, and read by Margarita?
- When Woland asks what she wants, why does Margarita choose to free Frieda from her punishment?
- Why must the master and Margarita leave the material world at the end of the novel?
- Why does Woland insist, against the beliefs of Berlioz and Ivan, that Jesus really existed?
- When Nikanor Ivanovich dreams that he is being interrogated, why does interrogation take the form of a number in a stage production?
- Why is the master's real name never revealed?
- To what extent do individuals control their own fate?
- Would acts of goodness have the same meaning in the absence of acts of evil?
- What are the similarities between religious and aesthetic experience?
FOR FURTHER REFLECTION
Lewis Carroll, Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass and What Alice Found There (1865; 1871)
Their reputation as children's classics notwithstanding, these books, about a little girl's journey through imaginary worlds inhabited by extraordinary creatures, suggest the confining nature of the habits of thought that characterize adulthood.
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Faust (1808, 1832)
An alchemist strikes a bargain with the devil in this endlessly rich monument of Western literature.
Nikolai Gogol, Dead Souls (1842)
The hero of this influential novel embarks on a fraudulent moneymaking scheme involving the purchase of recently deceased serfs, or souls, from a series of increasingly bizarre owners. A vivid, absurd portrait emerges of the conditions endured by nineteenth-century Russians.
Victor Pelevin, The Life of Insects (1998)
In this allegorical novel, an American and two Russians meet at a seaside resort hotel to discuss a business proposition. They also happen to be simultaneously humans and insects, as are the others characters in this unsettling vision of post-Soviet life.
François Rabelais, Gargantua and Pantagruel (1532-1564)
This early French epic, which earned its author persecution from the targets of its fantastical satire, employs an enormous range of literary forms to create an encyclopedic anatomy of French life during the Renaissance.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
I was looking forward to reading this book on my Nook and was sad to find it was not an English translation. It would have been nice if they said so somewhere before l bought it. Nook doesn't offer this book in English so it's off to the public library.
THIS IS IN RUSSIAN! Really disappointed that it didn't tell me that before I bought it!!
This has nothing to do with the book, but with B&N scheme , or lack of honesty. Where does it says the book is in Russian? Credit my money back or I will never visit this place again. And you force me to give one star?
Everyone thinks it's the best translation - the Nook version is in Russian, so there is no translation! Very disappointing since the type in the English print version is uncomfortably small for these old eyes.
I would have liked to have been informed in the description that this ebook was in a language other than English. Why was the description and whatnot written in English but not the book it was describing? Bizarre.
I was born and raised in Russian-speaking country. I love and adore Master and Margarita. But when it came to recommending that read to my American friends it was tough. That is until i opened that one. Take it from a person who speaks both languages, this IS the best translation out there.
This extraordinary and unique book opens in 1930s Moscow during the darkest period of Stalin's repressive reign. Near Patriarch Ponds, two writers sit on a bench engaged in a discussion regarding the nature of Jesus. True to their times, both writers devoutly discount his existence. As their discourse continues, they are joined by a third man, a well-dressed stranger who claims not only to believe in the existence of the historical Jesus, but to have actually been present at Jesus's trial and crucifixion. Unbeknownst to the two writers, this stranger is none other than Satan, himself, who is now calling himself Woland. The next chapter takes us to Yershalaim (Jerusalem) and Pontius Pilate's interrogation of Yeshua Ha-Nozri (Jesus). Much to Pilate's dismay, Yeshua freely admits to all of the charges brought against him. Pilate, although finding himself captivated by Yeshua and desiring to free him, has no choice but to order his execution instead. Yeshua is sentenced to death and crucified and Pilate grows more and more disturbed. Back in Moscow, things have taken a bizarre turn. When Woland's prediction of the death of the writer Berlioz turns out to be true, another writer, Ivan the Homeless is unceremoniously carted off to an asylum and the esteemed Dr. Stravinsky. As heads roll and people are driven mad, Ivan meets his neighbor in the asylum, one known only as The Master. The Master, also a writer, has been working on a novel centering on Pontius Pilate and the story, not coincidentally, is more than similar to Woland's eyewitness version. Ivan also learns of The Master's love for the beautiful Margarita with whom he shared both an apartment and an affair until the rejection of his novel drove him insane. Margarita, meanwhile, is living in a loveless marriage and spends her days pining away for her lost Master, knowing nothing of his whereabouts. The story then moves back to Yershalaim and Pilate's struggle to come to terms with the death of Yeshua. He is visited by Matthew Levi and subsequently orders the death of Judas of Kiriath (Judas Iscariot) for his betryal of Yeshua. Moving back to Moscow again, we learn the reason for Woland's visit. He wants to give a Grand Ball and is in search of a hostess--a hostess named Margarita. Margarita instantly agrees and the Grand Ball proceeds, apparently lasting for hours and hours with the guests having been chosen from among the most sinful and corrupt of all the deceased. With the dawning of the new day, Woland, who is pleased with Margarita's performance, tells her he will grant her her fondest wish. Of course, that wish is to be reunited with The Master. How this request is accomplished is one of the most extremely inventive passages in all of literature and involves not only Woland, but his wily accomplices (Azazello and Behemoth), Matthew Levi and Pilate, himself. Suffice it to say, all turns out well for all intended and The Master and Margarita eventually come to reside together for all time. In The Master and Margarita, Bulgakov has created, not only a technical masterpiece of flawless writing, but also one of immense creativity, making use of innuendo, iconography, metaphor and satire. This is a multi-layed book, encompassing many themes, drawn with a painstaking commitment to detail. Although, at first glance, the two concurrently running stories seem to bear no relation to each other, a closer examination shows us just how creative Bulgalov was and how great was his genius. As the story of Yeshua and The Master are occurring nearly two thousand years apart, it would seem, on the surface, impossible to link them. Bulgakov, however, forgets this span of years and tells the story by the day and the hour instead. As the Easter weekend unfolds, so do his stories, just as though they were occurring each at the same time but in different locations. Bulgakov did not intend for the story of Yeshua to be of historical significance. Instead, it is used as a device to further the sa
This is the fourth translation of this absolute masterpiece that I have read. Short of being able to read it in Russian, I have found the perfect translation. Having read the Ginsburg, Tiernen & O'Conner and Glenny translation, this unabridged version is undoubtedly the best. The characters in Woland's retinue are more lively and you get true understanding of each of their personalities. Their notes guide you through the times and names and history which give you a more complete comprehension of the darkest reign of Stalin and Moscow life. The interwoven tales of ancient Jerusalem, comtemporary moscow, and a love story have truly made this novel the ultimate masterpiece. I recommend the Pevear and Volokhonsky translation to appreciate this novel at the highest level.
Hey, if the text of the book is not in English please do not offer a description in English either. Not everyone who can read English can read Russian.
I loved the unforgettable characters, witty prose and hilarious set pieces but overall didn't really care for the plot (socio-religious commentary aside, it's just basically a series of comic encounters): I kept wishing the story would hurry up and get to the point. I found the Pontius Pilate sub-story extremely tedious.
'You've been invited here as a consultant, Professor?' asked Berlioz.'Yes, as a consultant.'"You're German?' Homeless inquired.'I?...' the professor repeated and suddenly fell to thinking. 'Yes, perhaps I am German...' he said.'You speak really good Russian,' Homeless observed.'Oh, I'm generally a polyglot and know a great number of languages,' the professor replied.'And what is your field?' Berlioz inquired.'I am a specialist in black magic.'Berlioz meets Prof Woland at Patriarch's Ponds, Moscow...
The devil came down to Moscow looking for...the devil knows what; and all hell broke loose, he played a mighty ruse, cos the devil deals the cards! *I¿m not sure I fully understood this book - my copy had no helpful extras to enlighten me on my progression; but I was captivated by the antics all along the way. And I discerned the underlying premise; the foundation which enables Satan and his cohorts to wreak havoc on an unsuspecting, but far from hapless, citizenry of Stalinist Moscow.Quite simply, the story begins with the appearance of a foreigner to a pair of learned Muscovites, and the extraordinary incidents he foretells; triggering a rebuttal, of sorts, to the common disbelief in the existence of any higher power, except possibly the state. It does not take long for the reader, however, to be prompted into the true identity of this stranger, Woland, and his rabid retinue, as they easily hold sway amidst the organised madness of the times. As Mikhail Bulgakov exhorts ceaselessly: ¿the devil knows¿ - as do most of the city¿s inhabitants - just how to work the system to suit themselves...and if you don¿t like it, speak up against it, dare to write innovative or original works about it, or do not follow the status quo, the devil take you. To the madhouse most likely...There really are a lot of layers to this book; many most likely lost to me in my ignorance, some in the complex diabolism the author hides behind, inherent in his life. It is interesting to me that the devil and his dominions are, on the whole, portrayed only as menacing and manipulative as the average Russian living in this time; albeit with much more capacity for calamity. The subtle indictment on issues concerning foreigners, housing, currency and the behemoth of bureaucracy - a big black unruly monster; easily parodied as a weird and maniacal black cat - are woven artfully throughout the mix; along with a nagging repetition of the meaning of courage and cowardice in a society underpinned by the terror of a secret state-sanctioned power base. Somewhat akin to Pontius Pilate and the Roman regime...The questions I felt The Master and Margarita ultimately posed were: how far does a person have to go to; what pact does a person make; what deal needs to be done - to survive and sustain some happiness and peace in this world while staying true to yourself? If you lose does the devil take your soul? If you win, do you still have a soul? This is an irreverent romp within a high degree of madness and mayhem - ironic in its witticism, satirical in its nature and hugely entertaining in the clever crafting of the many and varied fantastical scenes. Why then does it lie so heavy on my heart?*Profuse apologies to the lyricist for The Devil Came Down to Georgia - a song I found myself humming constantly whilst reading this book...(Jan 15, 2011)
An enjoyable book, but I failed to understand its underlying meaning. The book was recommended to me by a Russian, who indicated that life under communism was a major theme throughout the story with many hidden meanings. Much of the story would, I am sure, be understood if I had a Russian cultural background. My Russian friend assures me this book was a sensation when first published in Russia.
I read this novel for the second time after seeing a dramatic adaptation of it performed by a small theater company here in Chicago. This is a complex novel with three major story lines and fantastic elements including the presence of Satan and a large black cat as two major characters. The story is set in Moscow in the nineteen thirties with literature is controlled by the state. The major state literary association is chaired by a bureaucrat named Berlioz. One of the main reasons I liked the book was its fundamental literary foundation with strong influence of the Faust story and the work of Russians, particularly Gogol and Pushkin. The whimsy of naming several of the characters after famous composers, Berlioz and Rimsky for two, appealed to my musical interests. Satan prepares a fantastic ball and with the help of demons and a black Cat creates mayhem and ferocious comedy. The satire becomes more clear after rereading the novel and the other humor includes slapstick episodes and the sheer insanity of the story. Inserted into the novel is the story of Pontius Pilate and Christ as written by the poet known as the Master. With his mistress, Margarita the novel moves into a final phase that continues the fantastic elements of the story. I found the new translation by Pevear and Volokhonsky excellent as all their Russian translations have been. For those readers interested in magic and supernaturalism, Satan and Pontius Pilate with a beauty and a poet, this is the novel for you. Certainly a twentieth century masterpiece.
27. The Master and Margarita] by Mikhail Bulgakov (1940, 420 pages, read May 17 ¿ June 1)(published posthumously in 1966-1967; translated by Richard Pevear & Larissa Volokhonsky, 1997)I was intimidated before I read the introduction by Richard Pevear and saw what Bulgakov put into this work, and risks he took. I imagined difficult and complex reading, something beyond me that I would need to struggle just to get through the surface. I think I was literally shaking at one point, and never did feel really read to open this up. I thought about these feelings with amusement, in the past tense, as I was reading part II and our heroine was riding a broom, naked, over Moscow, and along with her house help, Natasha also naked. Natasha was flying an accountant turned into a pig. For all the seriously stuff here, this book is first fun, delightfully so. You can look up the details in Wikipedia of what Bulgakov put into writing this, but it involved putting his life on the line in the midst of the USSR¿s Great Purge of 1937/8, and in direct sight of Stalin, who he spoke to directly at least once. Bulgakov lived in fear, and burnt his first manuscripts of this book in the early 1930¿s. He wrote M&M secretly and was still revising at his death in 1940. His wife kept it hidden until a political thaw allowed the work to finally be published in a censored serial form in 1966/7.So it¿s stunning that there is so much fun here. A plot is summary is beyond this review, but it involves the Devil visiting atheist/communist Moscow and having a conversation with some of the leading literary figures. It also explores the general literary community of the repressed time, the life of Pontius Pilate, an author writing Pilates¿ biography and this author¿s married mistress. At some point there is a ball of famous, deceased tortured evil characters through time. Oh, and the devils retinue includes a black, person-sized cat, a rather nasty an opinionated one. When looking deeper into this there are many ways to go. There are parallels to Goethe¿s Faust, which I haven¿t read. There are religious and moral themes, and an emphasis on fear as the fundamental sin, one which hits home hard in 1930¿s USSR. And there is a long series of indirect accusations against the USSR. There are many disappearances, a really disturbing show trial in dream, and much assured official explanations of things no one understands. The Devil and his retinue can be read as a parallel to the unrestrained, lethal and capriciously used power of Stalin and his main advisers, or maybe it shouldn¿t be read that way. And Bulgakov takes his whacks at the literary community, and tormenting and killing in various brutal ways the parallels of his real-life critics. There is also a curious complexity of the Master and Margarita, themselves. They are the books heroes, but the understated criticisms are sharp, unclear, and feel very personal. The Master may be partly Bulgakov himself, but he is plastered. Given his greatest hope, he shows no joy, and instead, overwhelmed by wariness, simply tries to make do. He ends up in a permanent, but restful purgatory. Margarita is wonderful, but we must wonder at her self-chosen sacrifice, and other questionable things, and we must wonder what she represents. At some points I thought she was mainly a muse, fickle and magnificent, able to flitter about across the skies, but ultimately tied down by her more-human attachments.There are many levels to this work and it¿s quite wonderful on all of them. The surface is a joy to read, the criticism is biting and sad. But, the later doesn¿t taint the former; each can stand on its own. Finally, you can explore the meaning as far as you like, endlessly and in several directions. Highly recommended.
How did I not know this author existed? A must read, so contemporary it is mad that it was written in the 30's.
¿The Master and the Margarita¿ was a joy to read from beginning to end; it¿s enchanting and full of fantastic joy. It¿s amazing to me that the novel was written in 1930¿s Soviet Russia, and that it was published in 1966-67. As Pevear says in the introduction, ¿The very language of the novel was a contradiction of everything wooden, official, imposed. It was a joy to speak.¿ And indeed, among other things here you¿ll find demonic playfulness and trickery, flying pigs and naked women, a giant talking cat, and decomposed corpses walking about.There are three main story lines: one in which the devil and his cohorts trick, entrap, and terrorize various citizens of Moscow, toying with them as if they were puppets on a string, secondly a version of Pontius Pilate and the crucifixion of Christ written by the Master, broken up across chapters in the book and told by several narrators, and finally the story of the love between the Master and an unhappily married woman, Margarita, a story which echoed Bulgakov¿s own life. The devil and his retinue dominate; they are both comic as they banter back and forth, revealing their own foibles, as well as and dangerously cruel. Amidst all the clowning, what are the questions that Bulgakov is asking? Would you sell your soul to the devil for love? Would you want to be returned to a lover and a time and a place when all was right with the world, even if it meant turning yourself over to Satan? Partially, but this book goes far deeper than the Faustian bargain.There are parallels in the stories: Caesar is to Pilate¿s time as Stalin is to the Russians¿ time, and dark forces appear to be behind both. As the devil reigns terror in Moscow, one wonders, where is God? Similarly, where was God at the time of Christ¿s crucifixion? And by extension, where was God while the Communists took power in Russia, and brutally suppressed the people, their faith, and the arts?The criticism of the life under communism is understandably subtle. It hints at Stalin¿s tactics to make people disappear, detain people secretly for questioning, the widespread corruption that existed, and the difficulties of living in communal apartments. This is a story that is playful, whimsical, and highly entertaining on the surface, and underneath implies resilience and faith in the face of all these difficulties. Where is God? Satan implies the proof of God. Just as the comic lightness throughout the novel implies the beauty and meaning of life, and outward cowardice implies the existence of hidden courage. One of Bulgakov¿s key messages is that cowardice is the most terrible of vices. Out of cowardice, Pontius Pilate does not stand up to Rome and orders the crucifixion of Christ, and subtly he is saying that out of cowardice, modern Russians submitted to Communism. However with the power of faith and love, there is forgiveness and hope. In the novel the phrase ¿Manuscripts don¿t burn¿ is uttered, which became a Russian saying; here is he is saying that even if the arts and the people are suppressed, there is a resilience which will ultimately overcome. It¿s a miracle ¿The Master and the Margarita¿ was completed and eventually published, and it¿s a testimony to that resilience.Quotes:On Christ:¿It went without saying that today¿s execution proved to be a sheer misunderstanding: here this philosopher, who had thought up such an incredibly absurd thing as that all men are good, was walking beside him, therefore he was alive. And, of course, it would be terrible even to think that one could execute such a man. There had been no execution! No execution! There was the loveliness of this journey up the stairway of the moon.¿On death:¿Gods, my gods! How sad the evening earth! How mysterious the mists over the swamps! He who has wandered in these mists, he who has suffered much before death, he who has flown over this earth bearing on himself too heavy a burden, knows it. The weary man knows it. And without regre
The Pevear/Volokhonsky translation gives a true Russian flavor to the English, according to an expat colleague. The intersecting layers of the story (Woland and the Moscow Circus, the Passion story, the Master's literary angst) are clever and compelling, hinting at the author's personal travails, hitting the core of moral issues, and holding the Soviet regime up to ridicule. But great literature is more than clever and compelling, transcending the time and place of its origin, and Master and Margarita certainly qualifies.MM is, more than anything, a query into the very underpinnings of our belief system, i.e., epistemology, or the understanding of belief and truth. Woland comes to Moscow to assess the current status of mankind's epistemological development. He finds the Soviet literary establishment holding truth subservient to belief, denying even the existence of an historical Jesus. Woland knows better (he was there) and forcibly exposes the power of Truth to Poet Ivan Nikolaevich Ponyrev (or Bezdomny, "Homeless") by forecasting details of his editor's imminent death.Woland goes on to host a Carnival in the midst of Moscow, freely dispensing paper currency and Parisian fashion to the crowd, tearing off and reattaching Master of Ceremony Bengalsky's head, dispensing Variety Director Styopa Likhodeev momentarily to Yalta, and other feats of Black Magic. The people of Moscow suspend disbelief to accept the largess and, when the ersatz money and clothes disappear and Likhodeev reappears, they suspend their suspension, finding rational explanations for all the impossibilities. Again, belief over truth.Homeless recovers from his bout with Woland in the sanitorium, where he meets the Master and experiences Truth firsthand in his dream. He abandons poetry and becomes an historian during daylight hours, seeking truths via conventional paths. But at every full moon, he still taps into the dream where Truth is revealed to him. Bulgakov's central thread of Truth, the Passion story, can easily be embraced because it is so familiar, but its truth is somewhat at variance with the canonical versions. Matthew Levi, for instance, is represented as missing the essence of Yeshua's message, chronicling isolated factual elements entirely devoid of their context and meaning. The story is revealed through Woland's narrative, Ivan's dream, Margarita reading from the Master's restored manuscript. It is one and the same story in all its incarnations, with a consistency the canonical versions lack. It is literary, if not literal truth. Or is it?Pilate has been tormented through the centuries by his cowardice in allowing the execution. Bezdomny dreams the following encounter:Pilate: But, please tell me it never happened! I implore you, tell me, it never happened?Yeshua: Well, of course it never happened, you imagined it.Pilate: And you can swear it to me?Yeshua: I swear it!"...and his eyes smile for some reason."Pilate: I need nothing more!Matthew Levi could never have reached such a greater truth to forgive the cowardice of the equestrian. Woland, as demonstrated by his recusal in Frieda's pardon, did not consider mercy to be his department. Pilate was, at the last, touched by "that power which....eternally works good." And so truth flows from Goethe to Bulgakov to you, good readers, to you, "good people."
Spectacular. Culturally much of it was lost on me, but the sheer force of the work is inescapable. The foreword, which I only read half of before beginning the book proper, is very correct when it says that this book is about parable. It is an incredibly deep parable. The wild bits are wild like folk tales: they rage along. The serious parts are sad and knowing and bitterly clever. And when one thinks that Bulgakov wrote all this-- poured so much wit and so much vision into this one book-- EXPECTING IT NEVER TO BE PUBLISHED, so that in time he made himself exactly like the poor destroyed master-- well. There is no reason to not read this book. None whatsoever. MANUSCRIPTS DON'T BURN.
One of my favorite books. Love how Bulgakov runs a subplot in the back of this novel. Russian society is awful, but Bulgakov takes a lot of stabs at his government (too bad it was banned there for so many years). His treatment of the devil is also interesting to note, he is not the typical devil-figure that society has come to know. The narrative is great, as well. There are stories within stories, though masterfully placed...more like a dramatic television show with comedic breaks in between.
This novel will make you think, and possibly give you a headache like none other! Soviet Russia seems to be the real target of Bulgakov's pen, and he spears it admirably.
I have never been to Russia nor studied it in great length but this book to me is quintessential Russia. It is a love letter and a satire at the same time, a mirror held against the political and social faults of Moscow. The devil and a few of his assistants descend upon the Moscow of 1929 - not to gather souls, but to show the citizens and their greed and hunger for power and riches up. With magical shows, games, murders and general mayhem the devil manages to get most of the good people into mental asylums.....and more I will not tell you. Woven into the story is the tale of Yeshua (Jesus) and his execution by Pontius Pilate. This part is written very sensitive and gentle, very serene, different to the loud and colourful telling of the devils tale. And of course in the end both stories come together. I like this devil, who is so different from the one we think we know. I like hell's version of Death, called The Murderer, I like the cat, one of the devils acolytes, mischievous and evil, I like the way the language is handled, the phrasing, the way it seems to be steeped in Russian history and lore. Go people, read!
I should disclose that I'm not a particular fan of magical realism, which no doubt coloured my reading of this Russian classic. That said, I actually found the absurdity of it really entertaining...for a while. I loved the first part of the book, when the (vividly portrayed) devil wreaks havoc all over Moscow. Eventually though, the gun-toting cat, car-driving crow, flying pig and all the rest of Bulgakov's vast menagerie wore out their welcome. The last hundred pages or so were a real slog for me. The Master and Margarita is a book that demands patience and time.
This book was not quite what I expected. The social commentary was blatant and appropriate, making it obvious why this novel was banned from publication in Russia, but the rest was very odd. Completely different from any other Russian novel I've ever read, and I can't say it is quite my cup of tea. Too disjointed. I really wanted to like it. Perhaps I'll find some interpretations of it and see what I've missed.
Really very very funny and well worth a look if you're wanting something a bit different from your Russian literature. The devil and his minions run amok around Moscow.