Tuesday 5 June 2012

The Master and Margarita

BlurbThe underground masterpiece of twentieth-century Russian fiction, Mikhail Bulgakov's The Master and Margarita was written during Stalin's regime and could not be published until many years after its author's death.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 Meanwhile, the Master, author of an unpublished novel about Jesus and Pontius Pilate, languishes in despair in a pyschiatric hospital, while his devoted lover, Margarita, decides to sell her soul to save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.

Thoughts: Well, what a book. It's quite different to anything I've read before. But brilliantly witty. You find yourself in the most outrageous, insane scenes imaginable, but that's part of the charm. Each character is so incredibly captured, especially Behemoth, the talking cat. I did lose track of the numerous storylines after a while - not helped by the fact that I read it over a fairly long period of time - but I didn't find that particularly mattered, I still enjoyed them as they came along. I don't think I got all of the biblical references, but again I didn't find that to be a problem as what I mainly enjoyed were the characters and fantastical story lines. As an atheist I surprised myself by actually quite enjoying the fairly moving accounts of Pontius Pilate, which I admit slightly put me off the book to begin with. It is very well written, although I get the feeling my translation wasn't all that great - having researched afterwards, apparently the Michael Glenny translation is much better. All in all though, I really enjoyed reading it. I rarely like books with a magical element, but the 'fantasticality' was done in such a satirical and witty manner I actually found this book incredibly refreshing.


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