A masterful translation of one of the great novels of the 20th century
Nothing in the whole of literature compares with The Master and Margarita. Full of pungency and wit, this luminous work is Bulgakov's crowning achievement, skilfully blending magical and realistic elements, grotesque situations and major ethical concerns. Written during the darkest period of Stalin's repressive reign and a devastating satire of Soviet life, it combines two distinct yet interwoven parts, one set in contemporary Moscow, the other in ancient Jerusalem, each brimming with incident and with historical, imaginary, frightful and wonderful characters. Although completed in 1940, The Master and Margarita was not published until 1966 when the first section appeared in the monthly magazine Moskva. Russians everywhere responded enthusiastically to the novel's artistic and spiritual freedom and it was an immediate and enduring success. This new translation has been made from the complete and unabridged Russian text.
About the Author
Mikhail Bulgakov (1891–1940) was a doctor, a novelist, a playwright, a short-story writer, and the assistant director of the Moscow Arts Theater. His body of work includes The White Guard, The Fatal Eggs, Heart of a Dog, and his masterpiece, The Master and Margarita, published more than twenty-five years after his death and cited as an inspiration for Salman Rushdie's The Satanic Verses.
Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky have produced acclaimed translations of Tolstoy, Dostoevsky, Gogol, and Bulgakov. Their translation of The Brothers Karamazov won the 1991 PEN/Book-of-the-Month Club Translation Prize. They are married and live in Paris, France.
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.
The devil comes to play in Moscow and punish the wicked, jealous and gluttonous in this Russian classic. Satan and his conspicuous entourage casually cause havoc to erupt throughout the city in an attempt to wake up the population to the evil that modern day activity has made routine. Dry and witty, The Master and the Margarita re-invents the devil and his light counterpart as two balancing, rather than opposing forces. Excellent!
When I think about characters depicted in the history of religion, the character of the devil and the mystery surrounding him (or her) is by far most fascinating. For one, there is no agreement on where he comes from. Was he a creation of God that had to exist to oppose what is good and just and to create a universal balance that must be maintained in order for life to be what it is? Or was he a little jinni that refused to bow down to a human, and was cursed to eternity by the Almighty?In the way he behaves, does the devil target individuals and societies and rummages through them creating havoc and chaos? Or is he, like God, closer to us than our own veins?Can he be spoken to like God is prayed to? If so, does he answer our pleads the way God (some claim) answers our prayers?And what powers does this devil have? Can he start a fire or cause an accident by flicking a switch when no one is looking? Or does he whisper in our ears convincing us that all that is good, is really bad?The Master and Margarita begins with a conversation between an editor of a literary magazine and a poet. They briefly dicuss the existence of God before they are gently yet awkwardly interrupted by a stranger, who in turn gets slightly agitated that literary pair do not believe in God, or the devil for that matter. From then on, readers are introduced to some of the most charismatic characters in literature. The stranger and his retinue create some of the most memorable chaotic moments, and wreak havoc across Moscow in fascinating and mesmerising ways.While the stranger and his friends are visiting Moscow, the author takes us back to the moments before the execution of Jesus. He introduces us to Pontius Pilate, the Roman procurator who approved, against his own will, the execution of Jesus. In between the two storylines, he subtly weaves in a third about a lady called Margarita and her lover, the master.The seriousness of the three stories is told with such a light-hearted, and at times hilarious, prose that I constantly had to remind myself that there is a deeper meaning behind the highly entertaining plot. In one way, the book can be treated as a page-turner. I am sure you will love Behemoth when you meet him, and the love story will make you feel all fuzzy on the inside. In other ways, the book serves as a reminder of how one had to write in an oppressed society. If you were an opinionated writer who was reluctant to lose their life, and Stalin was the leader of your country, you too would find ways to offend without appearing as if you were offending. It just so happens that Mikhail Bulgakov was an amazing writer who told an excitingly bitter story without appearing too bitter, and produced one hell of a book.The one thing I love about the Russian books that I have read including this one, is their inherent tendency to sympathise with a character who is not necessarily good. In portraying evil, they always show a side of a character or introduce an event that makes you think that maybe this one time, evil was the right way of addressing it. The grey lines between good and evil are quite bold in Russian literature, and this book is the best example of that.Of course, like most great books, there are tens (if not hundreds) of themes and symbols throughout the book. Having fun picking them out!
I read the Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky translation and it is my favorite book to date. I haven't read any of the other translations but I would highly recommend this version. There were no oddly translated bits as you sometimes come across when something is colloquial in the original. This book has everything I love in a good read and even when I finished it I couldn't stop thinking about it for days. It has adventure, love, suspense, humor and a message. I read it just a few months ago but I may read it again soon. Just perfect.
The devil comes to Moscow. What fun! This highly imaginative novel is hard to follow if you haven't read Faust (which I haven't), but worth it for the author's re-imagining of Pilot's meeting with Jesus and the death of Judas.
Really surreal and very enjoyable - I loved the cat character especially. It's a really powerful book, especially taking into account the historical context.
It's difficult to qualify this book within a book which stretches the realms of the imagination whilst pulling the characters back to a glum reality. The grotesque carnival of pretentious characters and Satan's ball are particularly delicious; the Machiavellian plot in Judea and Pilate's devious intrigues are gripping. However I found the coming of the two difficult and the ending contrived as all loose ends are unraveled - dismissing some of the magic previously created but not necessarily explaining everything either. A wonderfully mind expanding experience overall.
This book has several intertwined storylines, each in a completely different narrative style. However, the main storyline revolves around Satan spending a weekend in Russia. Strangely, the devil is not portrayed as evil as I would have expected. He does cause all kinds of problems, but most of his antics seem to be enacted on deserving recipients.
The definition of 'classic' often seems to be 'that book that everyone can recognize but no one has read. A classic in literature is a title you find on the reading lists of unfortunate high school students, or on 'best of' collections, or books you mean to read merely because you have seen one in every book store you have ever entered.The Master and Margarita is an invisible classic. It belongs to that numberless crowd of books that has been passed up in English 101, its author uninvoked by amateurs flexing the literary muscles at each other (Oh yeah, Tolstoy. He did, like, War and Peace right?), its lines unmissquoted (I think you protest to much!), its genius undiscovered by any but those who stumble upon it like a gem in the gray bedrock of the 'literary fiction' section. But it is there, available, waiting for people to discover it after decades of censorship, suppression, and obscurity among the reading masses.I stumbled upon this book through librarything (thank you librarything!) It was a suggested group read, and since I had worn out my other travelling book I ducked into a bookstore and picked this up. The first thing that told me I had been missing out was the cashier, who told me she really wanted to read M&M herself. Of course she must feel that way about most of the books in the store, I said, but at this she gave me a serious look and said no, not at all. She meant -this- book. Now my interest was piqued. On the train I cracked it open and found myself enchanted by what I read. The devil in Moscow? What an odd premise. What chaos! What revelry! What imagination! What the hell is going on? I checked up with the group that had suggested the book. Mention was being made of scathing criticism, of deep things left unsaid between the lines of the story. I saw none of this, having no experience in soviet history or literature, and did some sleuthing.It turns out that there is a great deal of academic criticism written about this book, and much of it was fascinating. The juxtaposition of absurdity and reality in the two main narratives makes the 'real world' of Moscow feel like the impossibility and the 'fable' of Jesus' last days an everyday event. The invisibility of the secret police was so expertly handled that their saturation in the plot had to be pointed out to me, and then I hit myself for not seeing them. The cast of characters, a veritable parade of them, were not only amusing, but representative of great ideals; faith, cowardice, intellectual dishonesty, illusion and illumination were all personified by the cast of M&M. You can read M&M and enjoy it completely without realizing that you are grazing on top of a goldmine. It's a shame that high school students are not subjected to this book more often. M&M deserves to be misquoted and name-dropped by every Lit 101 student out there. I'd say that Master and Margarita is without a doubt my favorite read from 2009.
Brilliant satire. Poignant and bleakly humorous. Glenny's translation is, to me, the definitive one. Far more readable than others.
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.