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The Master and Margarita

A book by Mikhail Bulgakov

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Faust on acid.

  • Jan 15, 2008
  • by
Rating:
+5
Written in the 1930's, not published until the late 1960's, a quarter-century after the author's death, this is an amazing book. Any short description I provide is necessarily reductive - it's a reworking of the Faust legend, with an embedded exploration of the story of Pontius Pilate, in which the devil and his retinue visit Stalinist Moscow. From this premise, the author produces a scathing satire of the politics of his time (fully aware that the book would not, and could not, be published during his lifetime), as well as an extremely thought-provoking discussion of the role of the artist, and the necessity of mercy and forgiveness.

What I really liked about the book is the way he wraps some fairly deep themes into a hilarious story - we are given some hugely enjoyable tall tales by a mischievous, extremely funny narrator. The style is reminiscent of Flann O' Brien at his most coruscating; despite broad swipes at some fairly obvious targets, the overall story is uplifting, as the reader finally comes to the realization that Woland (the Satan-figure) is actually working on the same side as the Jesus-figure.

It's obvious why, upon its delayed publication, this book immediately achieved the status of a classic of modern Russian literature. A completely unexpected delight - I highly recommend this book.

The version I read was a translation by Diana Burgin and Katherine Tiernan O' Connor. Annotations and an afterword by Ellendea Proffer are based on 'two main texts' of the novel, one published in 1973 and one in 1989.

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More The Master and Margarita reviews
review by . December 03, 2007
Russian literature produced in the Stalin era is usually really awful or really excellent.This book falls into the latter category, as it was a real joy to read. There are various plot lines, a historical novel, and enough hilarity to make one laugh out loud. It is quite posible to read the book without referring to the notes at the end, but occasionally they add something to the book, or explain why the author wrote something the way he did. This is a timeless classic of literature and should be …
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Surely no stranger work exists in the annals of protest literature thanThe Master and Margarita. Written during the Soviet crackdown of the 1930s, when Mikhail Bulgakov's works were effectively banned, it wraps its anti-Stalinist message in a complex allegory of good and evil. Or would that be the other way around? The book's chief character is Satan, who appears in the guise of a foreigner and self-proclaimed black magician named Woland. Accompanied by a talking black tomcat and a "translator" wearing a jockey's cap and cracked pince-nez, Woland wreaks havoc throughout literary Moscow. First he predicts that the head of noted editor Berlioz will be cut off; when it is, he appropriates Berlioz's apartment. (A puzzled relative receives the following telegram: "Have just been run over by streetcar at Patriarch's Ponds funeral Friday three afternoon come Berlioz.") Woland and his minions transport one bureaucrat to Yalta, make another one disappear entirely except for his suit, and frighten several others so badly that they end up in a psychiatric hospital. In fact, it seems half of Moscow shows up in the bin, demanding to be placed in a locked cell for protection.

Meanwhile, a few doors down in the hospital lives the true object of Woland's visit: the author of an unpublished novel about Pontius Pilate. This Master--as he calls himself--has been driven mad by rejection, broken not only by editors' harsh criticism of his novel but, Bulgakov suggests, by political persecution as ...

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ISBN-10: 0679760806
ISBN-13: 978-0679760801
Author: Mikhail Bulgakov
Genre: Literature & Fiction
Publisher: Vintage
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