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Black Snow: A Theatrical Novel [Paperback]

Mikhail Bulgakov , Michael Glenny
3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)

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Book Description

18 Feb 1999
When Maxudov's novel, fails, he attempts suicide. When that fails, he dramatizes his novel. To Maxudov's surprise -- and the resentment of literary Moscow -- the play is accepted by the legendary Independent Theater, and Maxudov plunges into a vortex of inflated egos. Each rehearsal, sees more and more sparks flying higher and higher ... and less and less chance of poor Maxudov's play ever being performed. Black Snow is the ultimate backstage novel, and a brilliant satire on Mikhail. Bulgakov's ten-year love-hate relationship with Stanislavsky, Method acting, and the Moscow Arts Theater.

After a lifetime spent struggling against censorship, not least in the theater, Bulgakov died in 1940, not long after completing his masterpiece, The Master and Margarita. None of his major fiction was published during his lifetime.



Product details

  • Paperback: 176 pages
  • Publisher: The Harvill Press; New edition edition (18 Feb 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1860466397
  • ISBN-13: 978-1860466397
  • Product Dimensions: 19.2 x 13 x 1.2 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,532,184 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description

Review

"A masterpiece of black comedy" (Irish Times)

"The novel moves with mad exuberance" (Independent)

"Bulgakov, the first magical realist-is regarded as the Soviet writer who made the strongest impact on twentieth-century Western fiction" (Irish Times)

"A writer of fantastic genius" (Sunday Times) --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

Book Description

A brilliant satire on Method Acting and the Moscow Arts Theatre, from the author of The Master and Margarita. --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A review by Philip Spires 22 Oct 2007
Format:Paperback
Black Snow is a novel by Mikhail Bulgakov. This apparent platitude is full of contradiction. The book is perhaps better described as an autobiographical episode, with Bulgakov renamed as the book's central character, Maxudov. It's also a satire in which the characters are precise, exact and often vicious caricatures of Bulgakov's colleagues and acquaintances in the between-the-wars Moscow Arts Theatre, including the legendary Stanislawsky. In some ways, Black Snow is a history of Bulgakov's greatest success, the novel The White Guard, which the theatre company adapted for the stage under the title The Days of the Turbins. The play ran for close to a thousand performances, including one staged for an audience of a single person, one Josef Stalin who, perhaps luckily for Bulgakov, liked it.

Black Snow is also a sideways look at the creative process, itself. Maxudov is a journalist with The Shipping Times and hates the monotony and predictability of his work. Privately he creates a new world by writing a novel in which the author can imagine transcending the mundane. But the product of this and all creation is useless unless it is shared. Only then can it exist. Only then can the author's relief from the self he cannot live with be realised. But when no-one publishes the novel, when no-one shows the slightest interest in it, the author is left only with the isolation that inspired the book, but now this is an amplified isolation and more devastating for it. So he attempts suicide. But he is such an incompetent that he fails. It's the same middle class Russian incompetence that Chekhov celebrated in Uncle Vanya where no-one seems able to aim a shot.

But then this unpublished book is seen by others, for whom it seems to mean something quite different from the author's intention.
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4 of 7 people found the following review helpful
Format:Paperback
Bulgakov examines the Moscow literary and theatrical scene under Stalin with customary irony. This heavily autobiographical novel draws on the author's own experiences with Stanislavsky. Whilst perhaps not in the same league as other Bulgakov works it is an interesting and amusing vignette nevertheless.
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Amazon.com: 3.8 out of 5 stars  8 reviews
9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Revealing portrait of Soviet literary and theatrical milieu 6 Jun 2001
By a reader from New York - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
In this autobiographical novel, Bulgakov describes his experiences working with the Moscow Art Theatre of Stanislavsky and Nemirovich-Danchenko in the 1930's. The characters and situations are exaggerated to enhance the satire, and it is obviously not impartial, but it is extremely revealing nonetheless. This book, which is critical of Stanislavsky's method and the Soviet theatre scene of the 1930's, gives a moving portrait of a talented, dedicated author working against incredible odds. As usual in Bulgakov, satire is mixed with a serious message. Anyone interested in Bulgakov, the theatre, or Russian cultural history will enjoy this book.
5 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars You need to have felt the USSR regime to understand this... 27 Mar 2003
By anybody else or - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
Bulgakov is certainly one of the best Russian writers, and 'The Theatre Novel' is certainly among his best works. Unfortunately, it's been translated in English as 'Black Snow', which changes the idea of the book quite a great deal - 'Black Snow' is the title of the novel written by Maxudov (the main character), but in this case Bulgakov doesn't mean that we are reading THAT novel. It is quite misleading; Maxudov's 'Black Snow' is NOT 'The Theatre (or Theatral) Novel'.
The novel itself is quite hard to understand; I believe it could be best understood by those who have a good deal of knowledge about the situation Bulgakov is describing. I cannot say I have that, therefore it is not as easy to read this novel as it is to read other works by Bulgakov. However, the novel is definitely a masterpiece - the descriptions, for example, are overwhelmingly vivid and warm, which stands out even more considering that most modern (and pre-modern) novels do not depict that warmth and depth of feeling. The strikingly accurate descriptions of human emotions seem to be a thing that can most often be found in good Russian literature (Bulgakov, Dostoevsky, Chekhov...), and that's why you need Bulgakov to use almost half-a-page to list different kinds of people, for example...
The plot of the novel is quite hard to follow - which only illustrates how much of a genius Bulgakov is, as he manages to brilliantly reveal the confusion Maxudov experiences and the absurdity of his world. The feeling of uncertainty never leaves Maxudov. Nor does it leave the reader...
I'd have given this book 5 stars if Bulgakov hadn't also written 'The Master And Margarita'. 'The Theatre Novel' is a great book, but it simply cannot be as great as that one...
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Immensely enjoyable read. 29 Nov 2007
By Todd E. Babcock - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
I stumbled across Mikhail Bulgakov completely by accident. I was reading up on Stanislavsky, the reknowned Russian acting teacher, and came across this little book as part of my research.
What followed was surely a possessed spell where I couldn't put it down. While truly biased, as being an actor, by the behind the scenes aspect of the mythological Moscow Art Theatre, I was more overcome by just how appetizing Bulgakov's prose truly is.
Bulgakov's absolute disregard for typical structure and wordflow are what makes him so readable. He truly captures the essence of lonliness and the absurdity any creative feels when they are mining the depths of imagination and the dread that follows with it's exposure.
While it may help to have a foot in the lore of Stanislavsky and the Art Theatre, I DO believe this work can stand on it's own. The only regret, I felt, was when it ended. It's quite abrupt and left me wanting an entire 'second half'.
But, then, as they say in theatre. 'Leave them wanting more.'
A great intro to futher reading of Bulgakov, if, like me, your just stumbling upon him.
4.0 out of 5 stars good play 9 Jun 2013
By DosGatoz - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Saw parts of it presented for a UIL One Act & it was interesting & funny. Not sure how you'd go about staging the entire play though, as the cast is enormous. I also liked the twist at the end.
1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A review by Philip Spires 22 Oct 2007
By Philip Spires - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
Black Snow is a novel by Mikhail Bulgakov. This apparent platitude is full of contradiction. The book is perhaps better described as an autobiographical episode, with Bulgakov renamed as the book's central character, Maxudov. It's also a satire in which the characters are precise, exact and often vicious caricatures of Bulgakov's colleagues and acquaintances in the between-the-wars Moscow Arts Theatre, including the legendary Stanislawsky. In some ways, Black Snow is a history of Bulgakov's greatest success, the novel The White Guard, which the theatre company adapted for the stage under the title The Days of the Turbins. The play ran for close to a thousand performances, including one staged for an audience of a single person, one Josef Stalin who, perhaps luckily for Bulgakov, liked it.

Black Snow is also a sideways look at the creative process, itself. Maxudov is a journalist with The Shipping Times and hates the monotony and predictability of his work. Privately he creates a new world by writing a novel in which the author can imagine transcending the mundane. But the product of this and all creation is useless unless it is shared. Only then can it exist. Only then can the author's relief from the self he cannot live with be realised. But when no-one publishes the novel, when no-one shows the slightest interest in it, the author is left only with the isolation that inspired the book, but now this is an amplified isolation and more devastating for it. So he attempts suicide. But he is such an incompetent that he fails. It's the same middle class Russian incompetence that Chekhov celebrated in Uncle Vanya where no-one seems able to aim a shot.

But then this unpublished book is seen by others, for whom it seems to mean something quite different from the author's intention. Instead of a novel, they see it as a play. They ask for a re-write, complete with changes of both plot and setting. Effectively, the only way the work can have its own life, its own existence, is for it to become something that denies the author's own intentions and thus nullifies the reason for writing it. And so Maxudov goes along with things and thus in effect he is back again doing what he does for The Shipping Times, in that he is writing things that others want.

And here is where Black Snow becomes a parody of what was happening later in Bulgakov's own career. He wanted to write a play about censorship and control. This, obviously, was impossible in Stalin's Soviet Union, so he set the play in France, basing it upon the historical reality of Moliere. After four years of tying to prepare the play for performance what finally emerged was a costume drama from which all allusions to censorship had been removed or watered down. So Bulgakov's intended comment on Soviet society was lost. And the play flopped.

So the satirical caricatures are truly vicious. We have an impresario who is incapable of remembering the playwright's name. We have the opinionated arty intellectual, full of biting criticism and dismissive posturing until he realises he is speaking to the author and then he does an instant, blushing volte-face. We have a character that is so sure about every detail of organisation and experience that they are almost always wrong.

Ultimately, Black Snow is about a creative process where a writer can create whatever is imaginable. But then in communicating it, the receivers change it, transform it into what they want it to be. The writer makes the snow black, the recipients read it as black but change it to white and then probably argue whether it has already turned to rain. Black Snow is an enigmatic, super-real and surreal satire.
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