The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov

The Master and Margarita book cover
Rating 9.5/10
Considered one of the finest creations of Russian literature in the 20th century.

A Recommended Book of the Month

Moscow, 1929: a city that has lost its way amid corruption and fear, inhabited by people who have abandoned their morals and forsaken spirituality. But when a mysterious stranger arrives in town with a bizarre entourage that includes a giant talking cat and a fanged assassin, all hell breaks loose. Among those caught up in the strange and inexplicable events that transpire in the capital are the Master, a writer whose life has been destroyed by Soviet repression, and his beloved Margarita. Their adventures reveal a story that began two thousand years ago in ancient Jerusalem - and its resolution will decide their fate.

Mikhail Bulgakov’s novel The Master and Margarita is set during the 1930’s and was not published until after his death in the 1960’s. The 30's was a time of turmoil in Russia, when it was becoming bureaucratic and people were starting to watch their neighbours. At the time of the book it was common for people to ‘disappear’ for unexplained reasons, and the author has satirised this and based his story on these disappearances. But in this case it is not because the government is taking its citizens, instead it is because the Devil has turned up in Moscow to judge the souls of this atheist nation.

The book starts with what seems like a chance meeting in a park between the Devil and two members of the Moscow literary society, who are debating the fact that Jesus could not exist, by discussing the story of Pontius Pilate and Jesus. As the Devil exists then so must God is his contention.

The story itself is very well written, there are a lot of twists and characters coming and going. Like a lot of Russian novels there can sometimes be confusion while keeping track of people's names as they will use different forms depending on how formal the situation is.

The characters the Devil keeps around him are a motley crew of anarchists; his spokesman, who introduces himself as an ex-choir master, Koroviev, constantly makes people question themselves; Azazello; who is described as vampire-fanged and wall-eyed; Hella; a succubus and behemoth who is a large black cat that acts and talks like a human (who can be very infuriating). There is a feeling of menace throughout the novel as characters are swept up in events and sent out of the way on the whim of the Devil’s entourage.

The title characters, the Master and Margarita, although appearing in the first part of the book only become central to the story in the second half. We find out that amidst all of the chaos there is also a love story, about how, when the Master disappeared Margarita stayed true to him and is resolved not to give up… Which is how she becomes central to the Devils plans.

Overall I think that the book shows you how easy it is to become greedy and cynical, to not be able to see what is happening around you, and if you see it not being able to believe it. The citizens of Moscow are a contrast between what they see and what they want, with Margarita, who in her own way, is a pure soul.

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The Master and Margarita was included in The World Book Night Top 100 books to read, give and share.

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Considered one of the finest creations of Russian literature in the 20th century, The Master and Margarita is an amazing work of fantasy, a love story, a biting satire on Soviet life, and a lot more. Mikhail Bulgakov's last book and crowning achievement, it has been written in secrecy, burned and restored, and banned for decades. Its author, who worked on it until his final days, never saw it in print. English-speaking audiences may fully enjoy Bulgakov's masterpiece.
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The Master and Margarita reader reviews

from Alaska

7-stars

An extremely hard to read book, with intertextual inferences throughout the entire book. However, this will excite you - only if you bow down and read it thoroughly.

from USA

10-stars

The first time I read this book was when I was a graduate student, and I had a hard time with it. Finishing it, I decided that here was a masterpiece for professors of Russian literature, a great way to torment their students; there was a mass of characters and places, loads of inferences, connections, connotations, denotations...you get the idea. I read it a few years later, and I liked it. I read it a third time when I was in my late twenties. By then I was hooked. This is the kind of book that every time you dig into it, you pull out a different precious jewel. I still read it, sometimes just a piece or two of it, sometimes straight through. I have but one complaint. How do you answer when someone asks, "What's the book about"? Well, let's see... It's a love story, a satire of Soviet life, a comic novel, a strange re-telling of a biblical tale, a philosophical treatise on good and evil, a history book, a fairy tale, a book of magical realism, a menippean satire (Professors love to call it that), meaning it's like "Alice in Wonderland" and "The Hitch-Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy." which is pretty good company, I think. "Master and Margarita" is all those things, plus whatever ten or so things you will add after you have read it, or maybe read it a couple of times.

8.8/10 from 3 reviews

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