The Master and Margarita: Translated by Diana Burgin and Katherine Tiernan O'Connor

The Master and Margarita: Translated by Diana Burgin and Katherine Tiernan O'Connor


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The Master and Margarita: Translated by Diana Burgin and Katherine Tiernan O'Connor by Mikhail Bulgakov

The underground masterpiece of twentieth-century Russian fiction, this classic novel was written during Stalin’s regime and could not be published until many years after its author’s death.

When the devil arrives in 1930s Moscow, consorting with a retinue of odd associates—including a talking black cat, an assassin, and a beautiful naked witch—his antics wreak havoc among the literary elite of the world capital of atheism. Meanwhile, the Master, author of an unpublished novel about Jesus and Pontius Pilate, languishes in despair in a pyschiatric hospital, while his devoted lover, Margarita, decides to sell her soul to save him. As Bulgakov’s dazzlingly exuberant narrative weaves back and forth between Moscow and ancient Jerusalem, studded with scenes ranging from a giddy Satanic ball to the murder of Judas in Gethsemane, Margarita’s enduring love for the Master joins the strands of plot across space and time.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780679760801
Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Publication date: 03/28/1996
Series: Vintage International Series
Edition description: Annotated
Pages: 384
Sales rank: 124,348
Product dimensions: 5.20(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.90(d)

About the Author

Mikhail Bulgakov (1891-1940) was born and educated in Kiev where he graduated as a doctor in 1916. He rapidly abandoned medicine to write some of the greatest Russian literature of this century. He died impoverished and blind in 1940 shortly after completing his masterpiece, The Master and Margarita.

Table of Contents

The Master and MargaritaIntroduction
A Note on the Text and Acknowledgments
Further Reading

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

19. Margarita
20. Azazello's Dream
21. Flight
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

From the Publisher

“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.


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?


    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.

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    The Master and Margarita: Translated by Diana Burgin and Katherine Tiernan O'Connor 4.6 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 49 reviews.
    Hirlau More than 1 year ago
    About four years, ago I had met a person who is from Russia. We have a common interest in our family's sports. In a conversation one day on good, evil and the temptations that try men's souls; he recommended I read "The Master and Margarita." The first two chapters locked me in. The setting of Pontius Pilate in a private conversation with Christ prior to his execution, was a concept never presented to me before. I would like to believe that such an event occurred. I enjoyed the transitioning in time through out the book. Reading Bulgakov's book has only cemented my thoughts that Hell is real and it exists in our minds. I was surprised at the way Bulgakov presented the Devil (the character Woland). Controlled, not "fire-breathing", an individual with total confidence in his agenda; collecting souls. What I noticed in most of the encounters was the always present "option" presented by Woland through his underlings; to do the right thing or follow the temptation. I felt no compassion for Margarita. I feel that Margarita and The Master ended up as they were from the beginning; lost souls. My high point of the book was in the final chapters when Levi delivered Woland(The Devil) the order from Christ on Margarita and The Master. Even the Devil must answer to someone. Good does win out over evil. This was the first time I ever reviewed a book. I hope you enjoy this book. Thank you for taking the time to read my review.
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    My friend recommended this book to me, and what actually made me to buy it was because he considered it his favorite book of all time. I agree with him about that. It is an amazing book. Not only that, I developed an interest in the author's other works. Nevertheless, this is the best book written by Mikhail Bulgakov. It is an absolute masterpiece, a classic accepted in Russia and the rest of the world. "MASTER AND MARGARITA" is about purges Stalin ordered in the Soviet Union. The curious thing about this book is that the purges are depicted not to have been carried out Stalin's men, but rather by Satan himself, and in the manner of Baron Munchaussen, we get to know of a huge talking cat. Like animal farm, the greater meaning of the book is revealed through the intelligent though bizarre, compelling and humorous story. One is constantly left anticipating what the next page holds. There are so many layers and so many little details that one wonders how the author managed to put them together. Bulgakov is the Soviet version of Imperial Russia's Dostoevsky, but unlike Dostoyevsky who had a mastery of the mind/soul Bulgakov mastery is in the literature of oppression. I have recommended this book to many friends and family and recommend it to any reader interested in the enigma that is Russia, especially Stalinist Russia. Other interesting stories set in Russia are THE UNION MOUJIK,TARAS BULBA, PUTIN'S RUSSIA, THE LIFE AND DEATH OF LENIN, WAR AND PEACE. Also note that you are sure to find the widest selection of odd and creepy characters in this book .
    SavageBS More than 1 year ago
    Great classic novel. I wasn't 100% sure that I would like or enjoy reading this at all, I was wrong~ Getting used to all the "three-barreled Russian names" as other reviewers have stated, is probably the trickiest part of this classic novel! The author calls characters by their 1st name, then later refers to the same character by his middle and last name, a little confusing at times! This book has two parts, Part 1 is 168 pages, Part 2 is around 140 pages. Part 1 for me was a little boring, with the exception of the chapter "Black Magic and Its Exposure". Part 2 is where the book really picks up and turns into a real page turner! "Satan's Great Ball" is arguably the best chapter in the book! This book has several really, really memorable characters- Satan, called Woland in the book Behemoth a mischievous, gun-happy, fast-talking, chess playing, black cat the size of a hog (a very likeable cat and the best character in the book by far) A great classic novel!
    edwardhenry on LibraryThing 12 days ago
    Sure did like it, but did not meet my expectations. Worth another try later in life, perhaps after I have been to Russia.
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    I highly recommend this book to everyone over 16. It is full of supernatural occurrences and shady characters. The book was finished in 1940 and fascinated readers ever since. I read this book in Russian in Ukraine. It is an unforgettable experience. I give it 5 stars.
    CedricsMom More than 1 year ago
    It took me 2 months to read The Master and Margarita, but I’m glad I stuck with it for the enjoyment of completing a difficult task. Also, the book was fun, something I didn’t expect. And of course now I can flatter myself in the bookstore by pointing to it and saying “I read that!” I’m not Russian. I’ve never been to Russia and the largest segment of Russian culture that I know anything about is classical ballet. I’m not political, so I don’t know much of the political structures that have governed Russia for decades. But I do know that the Master and Margarita is a modern day Russian classic so I read it. I expected it to be a dry, impenetrable task but I wanted to see what the big deal was. I probably still don’t know what the big deal is, but what a wild ride. There’s a devil who shows up in Moscow one day (God only knows why) and takes over the theatre and all the chaos and hilarity that ensures from that. We’ve got a giant black cat that stands on his hind legs and talks and causes a boatload of trouble. He’s in league with the devil, you see. We have a heroine who flies over Moscow by night on her witch’s broom and her servant girl who rides with her, but on the back of a giant flying pig. But first, you must make your way past the first 3 chapters. Once you do, I guarantee you’ll be re-reading passages to make sure you read it right the first time. You probably did; this book is as wild as anything Fellini ever put on film and makes Alice in Wonderland look like child’s play. Don’t get bogged down in Pontius Pilate and all of that. It’s temporary and doesn’t take up much of the book. Magical realism? I don’t know. It’s pretty magical but I don’t think it’s real. Symbolism? Plenty of it: the moon, the color red, naked women, mental hospitals and more. But what it all means is up to the reader to decipher and having read this book once, I know I’ll have to re-read it to glean understanding. History says Mikhail Bulgakov wrote this during the height of Stalin’s tyranny. For that reason, the book was banned which is a concept that Americans can’t understand. To us, the label “banned book” is an enticement to see what the big deal was. In Stalinist Russia, having your book banned was getting off easy; writers and members of the intelligentsia were often sent off to work camps or killed. But enough history. The thing is, if you pick up this book, expect to be captivated by chaos and improbability, passages that are truly gothic, and beautiful writing. It’s an outrageous trip. Overall, The Master and Margarita is a love story imagined during a time of great trouble. This book can go as deep as the reader is willing to go, but don’t expect to get it all in the first or third read. You can keep it light and be amazed or take it deeper. If you go deep, please report back to us and share your findings. I know I missed a lot. Don’t be frightened away from The Master and Margarita. Remember, there’s a giant black cat that walks on hind legs and can’t wait to stir up disaster. How entertaining is that?
    TheBirdCop More than 1 year ago
    Such a terrible waste of resources. Do not read this book if you value your time.
    jane_eyre_ More than 1 year ago
    This book is hilarious and entertaining all the way through! It is a bit tough to keep up with the names of so many characters, but after a while you know each of them well! If you notice, the only reason this book is rated 4 stars and not 5 is because people are posting that the nook version is in Russian. The English translation, however is incredible! 5/5! 
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    niceboo1 More than 1 year ago
    Read it many times in Polish and looking forward to reading it in English for the first time. Thanks B&N for having it!
    Achire More than 1 year ago
    I have read several translations and the original of Master and Margarita, in addition to translating a chapter for personal use. This one is the best. When one reads this translation, it is easy to understand what makes M&M the favorite book of so many Russian-speakers. The prose is simple, yet elegant, full of beautiful irony. This translation keeps endnotes only when they are necessary (in contrast to the Pevear & Volokhonsky version, which eagerly explains every minor reference). The other translation commonly recommended is the Mirra Ginsburg, which has lovely descriptive prose. However, I feel that translation lacks the humor that is so essential to Bulgakov's work. The dialogues in the Burgin and O'Connor seem more natural, less contrived, and full of wit and humor. Overall, this is an excellent translation.
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    Friends that I recommend this book to ask me what it's about, and all I can tell them is: everything! It spans a range of subjects, and is an absolutely delightful read.
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    kuzya More than 1 year ago
    the best masterpiece of 20-th century.
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    Bugakov manages to pull off a work so meaningful that it has become a part of everyday Russian speech. In its moving and comic scenes, he shows where the evil of man truly originates, and how little control humans exert over their lives despite any illusion that depicts the opposite. The intellectual girth can be measured in the same scale as the works of Dostoevsky, making this a work so profound that it inspires sympathy for the most unlikely of targets. This is truly one of the best stories to be told by a Russian author.
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago