Tuesday, April 10, 2018

The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov

The Master and MargaritaThe Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The Master and Margarita starts with a meeting in a park between Mikhail Alexandrovich Berlioz, the editor of a prominent literary magazine and Ivan Nikolayevich Ponyryov, a poet who writes under the pen name - Homeless. They are discussing a poem Berlioz has requested from Homeless. This work is supposed to deny the existence of Jesus. Berlioz doesn't feel the poem is strong enough to make the point he wants.

While they are preparing for a meeting to discuss this problem, a foreigner named Woland shows up. He tells them the meeting will NOT occur and explains with some statements that make no sense, something about spilled cooking oil. He also tells them Christ existed and was crucified. He knows this because he was there and starts relating the story. There are details that differ from the traditional telling, but what Woland is speaking about is clear.

Berlioz is upset by Woland's words, thinks the man is insane, and runs off to call the authorities, starting a chain of events which authenticate Woland's words. Woland then disappears and Homeless, who is now upset with what he has just witnessed, starts a bizarre search for Woland to turn him over to the police.

The story continues with an interweaving of activities of Woland with more of the story of Pilate and the crucifixion. Margarita is introduced and takes off on a weird adventure. She is the lover of the master, who is the author of the Pilate novel, which Woland related to Berlioz and Homeless. When their love affair takes a bad turn, she turns to Woland for help.

Many of the scenes are weird, to say the least. Bulgakov often dresses his female characters in very little or nothing at all and frequently accompanies these women with men in tuxedos. There is a ball, attended by famous characters, living and dead, also a magic show designed to demonstrate the priorities of the bourgeoisie in the audience, and a large, odd cat with human qualities. Woland's strange powers are demonstrated throughout the book, generally with a relation to sin in some form.

The Master and Margarita was written between 1928 and 1940 during Stalin's regime, but not published as a book until 1967. It's an extremely complex satire, covering multiple topics including religion, life under an authoritarian regime, and the pretentiousness of art (both performance and literary). I listened to the audio version, but had to research the book to get the most out of it. I think anyone who is about to read it should at least visit the Wikipedia page. ( https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Mas... ). You'll encounter spoilers, but it will help the story make sense.

Steve Lindahl – author of Under a Warped Cross, Hopatcong Vision Quest, White Horse Regressions, and Motherless Soul

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