The Master and Margarita Author:Mikhail Bulgakov Surely no stranger work exists in the annals of protest literature than The 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... more » 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Meanwhile, a few doors down in the hospital lives the true object of Woland's visit: the author of an unpublished novel about Pontius Pilate.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 well. Yet Pilate's story becomes a kind of parallel narrative, appearing in different forms throughout Bulgakov's novel: as a manuscript read by the Master's indefatigable love, Margarita, as a scene dreamed by the poet--and fellow lunatic--Ivan Homeless, and even as a story told by Woland himself. Since we see this narrative from so many different points of view, who is truly its author? Given that the Master's novel and this one end the same way, are they in fact the same book? These are only a few of the many questions Bulgakov provokes, in a novel that reads like a set of infinitely nested Russian dolls: inside one narrative there is another, and then another, and yet another. His devil is not only entertaining, he is necessary: "What would your good be doing if there were no evil, and what would the earth look like if shadows disappeared from it?"
Unsurprisingly--in view of its frequent, scarcely disguised references to interrogation and terror--Bulgakov's masterwork was not published until 1967, almost three decades after his death. Yet one wonders if the world was really ready for this book in the late 1930s, if, indeed, we are ready for it now. Shocking, touching, and scathingly funny, it is a novel like no other. Woland may reattach heads or produce 10-ruble notes from the air, but Bulgakov proves the true magician here. The Master and Margarita is a different book each time it is opened. --Mary Park --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
From Publishers Weekly
This uncensored translation of Bulgakov's posthumously published masterpiece of black magic and black humor restores its sliest digs and sharpest jabs at Stalin's regime, which suppressed it. Writing in a punning, soaring prose thick with contemporary historical references and political irony, Bulgakov (1891-1940) did not make things easy for future translators. The story itself is demanding: the arrival of the Devil and his entourage in Stalin's Moscow frames a Faustian tale of a suppressed writer (the Master) and his devoted lover (his Margarita), set against a realistic narrative?the Master's rejected manuscript?of Pontius Pilate's police state in Jerusalem. An immediate contemporary classic when it was first serialized in Moscow in censored form in 1967-68, the novel suffered in its previous English translations, which were either incomplete or stylistically loose. This new translation, with its accuracy and depth, finally does justice to the politically and verbally outrageous qualities of the original. Careful footnotes explain and contextualize Bulgakov's dense allusions to, and in-jokes about, life under Stalin.
Copyright 1995 Reed Business Information, Inc.
I've always been a fan of Russian novels, ever since I read my first Dostoevsky novel at the age of 10...(okay, it was a Classics Illustrated comic book version of Crime and Punishment!)but had never run across anything by Bulgakov until a few years ago. A Russian friend of mine really pressed me to read the book. I bought it, but it just stayed on the shelf until a few weeks ago. All I can say is, I didn't know what I was missing. Master and Margarita is a wickedly funny, sad, frightening, and ultimately haunting masterpiece of fiction.
Bulgakov was one of the first generation of Soviet writers who flourished in the 20s, during the short lived Soviet Experimental movement, and then suffered horribly after the stregnthening of Stalin's regime. Bugakov was primarily a man of the Theater, and something of a theatrical quality hangs on to this book. The chapters have an almost tableaux style construction. When the Stalinist purges began, Bulgakov was began work on Master and Margarita, pretty much to please himself. He knew that he would never live to see it published.
The novel itself is nearly impossible to describe. It consists of three separate plots. On the surface is the visit to Moscow, of the Devil in the guise of a professor named Woland, and his henchmen, two grotesque disfigured men, a naked woman and a cat who plays chess among other things. The group proceeds to essentially terrorize the city's intellectual community, mostly by exposing each character's inner hypocracy. The satire of communist society in this section is quite biting, and uproariously funny. Embedded in this story is a "novel within a novel" ...the story of Pontius Pilate and his encounter with the itinerant spiritual man, Yeshua. Finally, there is the story of the separated lovers, the Master and Margarita, who interweave between the other two stories. They live in the present day Moscow, but the Master ostensibly wrote the manuscript which told the story of Pontius Pilate.
This rich and complicated stew of a book works on so many different levels. At it's most obvious, it is a scathing attack on communism and the cultural elite's complicity with the evils of the system. It is also rather pitiless in it's exposure of the greed, corruption and mendacity of human nature. But Bulgakov is not a conventional moralist. The Devil as Woland is an evil figure...sometimes a terrifying figure, and yet he ends up as the instrument of the redemption of both the Master and Margarita. There is a deep spiritual viewpoint at work here...Early in the novel, Yeshua tells Pilate that, "all men are good", to Pilate's incredulity. In the context of the novel, Yeshua seems hopelessly naive, but by the end of the novel, you wonder if this may actually not be the author's central point. Even the devil is capable of some good here.
This book contains a whole world. Characters change in dizzying fasion and events go by with lightening speed. And yet, by the last pages there is a haunting beauty, an almost incandescent light that shines over the prose. Some of these final images stay etched in my brain even now, several weeks after finishing.
I highly recommend that anyone read this book. It may be one of the greatest novels of the 20th century. It certainly is the greatest Russian novel of the last 100 years!
I suppose that I can start by saying that "The Master and Margarita" has been my favorite book for over 7 years now (that says a lot since I read quite a bit!). I don't think it is necessary to discuss the plot of the book, since you can read what the book is about by looking at the editorial reviews. However, I will comment on the various translations.
Without a doubt, the book in the original Russian is incomparable, but if you don't read Russian I would recommend the Burgin/Tiernan O'Connor translation. The first translation I ever read was Mirra Ginsburg's - although it is very charming and enjoyable, certain bits of conversation as well as almost an entire chapter are omitted from this translation. I have also read parts of Michael Glenny's translation, and I don't feel that his translation accurately relays the depth, rhythm and richness of Bulgakov's style. Burgin/Tiernan O'Connor has given the most complete and accurate translation of this work. Another superb feature of this translation is the commentary section at the end of the text, which is very helpful in understanding what influenced Bulgakov, and is especially helpful if the reader is not familiar with certain aspects of Soviet culture while the book was written (during the 1930's).
Lastly, I have to comment on the thing that I love most about "The Master and Margarita" - it is impossible to classify this book as one certain genre. This book is a philosophical and religious novel, an historical novel, a satire, a love story, an action/adventure, and a fantasy all rolled into one. Simply put, it is timeless - an original, brilliant and beautiful novel.
I am Russian, and have read this novel (which is my favorite Russian novel), in Russian. However, for some reason, a week ago I decided to look through Michael Glenny's translation of this novel and I was shocked by the various little mistakes in the text. In the very first dialog, one of the main characters asks for a glass of Narzan (which is a famous brand of mineral water in Russia), which M.Glenny translates as lemonade. Close, but no cigar...And it goes further like this. That leads me to believe that the translator probably was not familiar with nuances of Russian language, or may be simply didn't care. Nevertheless, I know that it had been the only one English translation available since 1967 and thanks Mr.Glenny for that. Now we have Mirra Ginsburg's more accurate translation (I have checked), which makes me happy. The novel is truly fascinating. A really remarkable person wrote it. Bulgakov was a doctor by profession, he received an exellent education in the pre-Revolutionary Russia and lived through the horrors and turmoil of the Revolution of 1917 and the Civil war. This is a wonderful satire on Communism and a biblical story. This novel populated by very interesting characters, one of them is "unknown visitor" Woland, who is the Satan visiting Moscow with his entourage. Woland is a complex figure, a diabolical seducer, father of lies - the Devil himself, but also "he, who has brought the light" - Lucifer. He laughs at the Soviet Communists, who mistakenly think that they have rooted out all evil and have build a society which is even beyond the good and evil. In the clash with Woland they watch how the "perfect" and godless society crumbles down. Please read it, and you will enjoy it, because the novel goes beyond Russian culture to the world of archetypal characters and events that have meaning to all humans.« less