The Master and Margarita
My to-read list and pile are extensive. For years, The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov sat as scrawled letters on the list and then as one of many, many books in an overflowing wicker basket beside my desk. I finally picked it up and read it, and now I have finally finished it and I think it warrants a blog.
This book was not a leisurely read for me and without trying to sound like a snob, I am not exactly new to literature. It was not difficult to read in the sense of language, it was just so full of stuff. Though not particularly long, Bulgakov sure packs a lot into every page, into every word. I suspect that I would have to read it several more times to catch all of the puns, allusions and other nuances.
In short, The Master and Margarita is about the devil arriving in Moscow in the 1930’s and wrecking his own special brand of havoc in Soviet Russia, which is an atheist country and refuses to believe in him. As if that isn’t interesting enough, as a writer, there were a lot of other things that made this book very unique for me, here are a few of them.
1. The main characters are not introduced in the first part of the book. This is, as every good writer knows, a huge no-no. More proof that you must know the rules and then feel free to smash them with the blunt object of your choice, notwithstanding possible consequences.
2. It is really two books in one. One of the main characters, the Master, is a writer and part of the book is the Master’s manuscript which is a novel about Pontius Pilate. You get to read parts of this manuscript over the course of the novel.
3. This one is a little more complicated, first, the references that The Master and Margarita make to Faust, various literary and classical figures and works is mind-boggling. Get a version with notes or commentary and make good use of them. Second, once you read it, you realize how much The Master and Margarita has been referenced and used and portrayed in popular culture over the years. What goes around comes around.
4. Mikhail Bulgakov is an interesting character himself. He had worked on The Master and Margarita for something like twelve years, and then died before it was finished at a relatively young age. The main text was done, but he was still working on it when he died in 1940. What other changes might he have made, had he lived?
5. Most impressive, or perhaps, most sad, Bulgakov never thought that The Master and Margarita would be published, and he was right. It never would have been published, uncensored, in Soviet Russia and it wasn’t. It was partially published in 1966, over twenty years after he died. I am both inspired and depressed by the thought of this man slaving away on a manuscript for so long that he was pretty sure would never see the light of day.
Though not light summer reading, in honour of September’s arrival I highly recommend adding The Master and Margarita to your winter reading list. It is not an easily categorized work and you will probably not breeze through it. Learn a little bit about it before you start and read a copy with notes and commentary to make your journey through Bulgakov’s crazy, magical world run just a little smoother. This one is worth the extra effort.
This is the version that I read.
- Mikhail Bulgakov’s Novel The Master and Margarita Reviewed (biblioklept.org)
- Diaries and Selected Letters by Mikhail Bulgakov, review (telegraph.co.uk)
Posted on September 2, 2013, in Articles, Reading, Writing and tagged Books, Bulgakov, classical figures, Faust, Literature, Margarita, Master, Master and Margarita, Mikhail Bulgakov, Moscow, Pontius Pilate, review. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.