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112 of 116 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars I would give this 6 stars but I was not allowed.
There is little that I could write to do sufficient justice to such an inspired flight of the imaginaltion. The dual settings in the novel of the fantastical last few days in the life of Jesus Christ compared to the chaos of a timeless Moscow held in thrall by the Devil in the guise of a cheap stage magican. The plots are so diverse and the characters are totally...
Published on 4 Sept. 2000 by S. J. Dillon

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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A good satire, but needs to be read in historical context
Bulgakov's satire on Russian life under Stalin underwent some significant changes between its first draft and the "final" version we have in print here. He played around with the title a lot before settling on the final one we have now, and this somewhat evident, as the title characters are noticeable by the absence in the first half of the novel. The story rather...
Published on 31 May 2011 by S. Meadows


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112 of 116 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars I would give this 6 stars but I was not allowed., 4 Sept. 2000
By 
S. J. Dillon (Liverpool) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
There is little that I could write to do sufficient justice to such an inspired flight of the imaginaltion. The dual settings in the novel of the fantastical last few days in the life of Jesus Christ compared to the chaos of a timeless Moscow held in thrall by the Devil in the guise of a cheap stage magican. The plots are so diverse and the characters are totally compelling (amongst them is Behemoth a cigarette smoking, gun toting, 5ft Black cat!) I have never read anything so darkly compelling yet wickedly funny that works on so many levels. I have read this book at least once a year for the last 6 years and I think I will continue to do so until I have picked it clean, and that will take me good while yet. Bulgakov is the true Master.
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148 of 154 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Wonderful book but choose your translation carefully, 14 Nov. 2009
This review is from: The Master And Margarita (Penguin Classics) (Paperback)
I posted this review on the US Amazon site, but thought I would reproduce it here, hopefully it will be useful.

.............................

:
I read the Michael Glenny version in the late sixties, and have loved it deeply ever since. Having lent my copy to a friend I bought a new one some years ago - and I thought I would try the Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky version.

This couple evidently know the nuances of Russian culture but they simply can't write idiomatic English and their translation therefore loses the spontaneity and fun of the Glenny version.

Compare these early paragraphs: by Pevear and Volokhonsky

'What the devil does he want?' thought Homeless, frowning.
'And you were agreeing with your interlocutor?' inquired the stranger, turning to Homeless on his right.
'A hundred per cent!' confirmed the man, who was fond of whimsical and figurative
expressions.
'Amazing!' exclaimed the uninvited interlocutor and, casting a thievish glance around and
muffling his low voice for some reason, he said:
'Forgive my importunity, but, as I understand, along with everything else, you also do not
believe in God?' he made frightened eyes and added: 'I swear I won't tell anyone!'
'No, we don't believe in God,' Berlioz replied, smiling slightly at the foreign tourist's fright, but we can speak of it quite freely.'
The foreigner sat back on the bench and asked, even with a slight shriek of curiosity:
'You are - atheists?!'
Yes, we're atheists,' Berlioz smilingly replied, and Homeless thought, getting angry: 'Latched on to us, the foreign goose"

With these by Michael Glenny:

'Ah, how interesting!' exclaimed the foreigner.
'What the hell does he want?' thought Bezdomny and frowned.
'And do you agree with your friend?' enquired the unknown man, turning to Bezdomny on his right.
'A hundred per cent!' affirmed the poet, who loved to use pretentious numerical expressions.
'Astounding!' cried their unbidden companion. Glancing furtively round and lowering his voice he said : 'Forgive me for being so rude, but am I right in thinking that you do not believe in God either?' He gave a horrified look and said: 'I swear not to tell anyone!'
'Yes, neither of us believes in God,' answered Berlioz with a faint smile at this foreign tourist's apprehension. ' But we can talk about it with absolute freedom.'
The foreigner leaned against the backrest of the bench and asked, in a voice positively squeaking with curiosity :
'Are you . . . atheists? '
'Yes, we're atheists,' replied Berlioz, smiling, and Bezdomny thought angrily : ' Trying to pick an argument, damn foreigner! '

Which version do you think would be more enjoyable to read....?

I'm now looking for the Burgin/Tiernan O'Connor version so that I can read that to compare.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A good satire, but needs to be read in historical context, 31 May 2011
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This review is from: The Master And Margarita (Penguin Classics) (Paperback)
Bulgakov's satire on Russian life under Stalin underwent some significant changes between its first draft and the "final" version we have in print here. He played around with the title a lot before settling on the final one we have now, and this somewhat evident, as the title characters are noticeable by the absence in the first half of the novel. The story rather focusses on an unholy trinity that have wandered into Moscow and start wreaking havoc amonst the population.The style of writing requires close attention; it's not a book for the casual reader, and very often I found myself having to go back a few pages in order to pick up a reference I had glossed over but which played an important part in the plot.

The story begins with two atheists in a park discussing the non-existence of Jesus, and dismissing Immanuel Kant's "proofs" of the existence of God. Along comes a mysterious stranger who is delighted by their atheism, but kindly points out that, after having had breakfast with Kant and having been witness to Jesus' condemnation by Pontius Pilate that Jesus is as real as the devil. Proof of this is then provided with a macabre prophecy which is fulfilled in intimate detail shortly thereafter.

This is more than a simple story; and the pall of totalitarianism hangs over the novel like a dark shroud thrown over the city of Moscow by Woland. Not being very familiar with this era of history, I am sure there are many references and metaphors which I missed, but which would enhance the reading experience of those more enlightened than I.

For me, the two most enjoyable scenes in the book were the more fantastical ones, with Woland's séance and the great ball, as they both contained some brilliant imagery, combined with scathing satire.

I think I will read this again at some point in the future, but only after I have educated myself more on the historical setting. For those already familiar, I am sure this is to be seen as one of the great novels to come out of Russia during Stalin's era.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Answers all the eternal questions of the humanity, 4 July 1999
By A Customer
This book is the most important one I've read in my life. It can answer such questions as what is the meaning of life or why are we here for, however, you must be able to read between the lines. Moreover, I appreciate that it might be very difficult, if not impossible, to understand the plot if you haven't lived in the USSR at least for a while.
The composition of the story line is extremely unusual. The first part seems to be a mixture of someone's crazy dreams, events which happen while they cannot be happening; however, everything falls into place in the second part, which is at the same time even more increadible. It is the second part where you see not only the explanation of the event in the first part, but also everything that happens, and why it happens, in life in general.
I've read this book so many times, that I know some parts by heart. And the more I read it, the more new secrets it opens, and the more enjoyable it is.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Would definitely read a second time, 25 Jan. 2010
This review is from: The Master And Margarita (Penguin Classics) (Paperback)
The devil is unleashed in Stalinist Moscow. The funny thing is that while the devil kills, maims and causes havoc throughout the city, he is very far from a traditional definition of evil. In fact, the character struck me as being more like an avenging angel, punishing people for various sins such as cowardice, greed, vanity or lust.

One thing I found amazing about the book was that I believed in the characters and the action, even when it was absolutely absurd, as it frequently was. I think Bulgakov achieved this by focusing on the ordinary aspects of the situation, not on the absurd. For example, when a cat jumps on a subway car and attempts to pay ten kopecks to the conductress, Bulgakov adds in little details like the fact that he grabbed hold of a handrail and paid through a window "open on account of the stuffiness". By reminding readers of familiar things like this, he makes the situation seem more real.

This is the kind of book that you could probably read several times and get new layers of meaning each time. The character of Pontius Pilate appears throughout the book, including at the beginning and the end, and was the subject of a book written by the Master and a story told by the devil to prove the existence of Jesus to a doubting literature professor just before he predicts (or engineers?) the professor's decapitation by a tram. Decapitation is a repeated motif, as are sin and punishment.
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14 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Notes on translation, 24 Feb. 2010
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This review is from: The Master And Margarita (Penguin Classics) (Paperback)
This is just a fantastic book, more people should know about it! I won't go into detail about the plot as it's been covered here and to be honest there really is no substitute for reading the book itself: I think it just about has everything and its originality, intricacy, and subtext is breathtaking.

What I will pass comment on however is the translation. Firstly, I have not read the much lauded Glenny translations as discussed on these pages. I read the Penguin Classics Pevear & Volokhonsky translation. My intention is not to get embroiled in a battle over which translation is the superior but rather to provide an assurance to those looking to purchase the book that this is an eminently readable version. Not having read Glenny I can draw no direct comparisons, but the P&V version is far from "unreadable"; people are always going to be biased to how they first encountered the book. There are times when the text appears a little, for want of a better word, `clunky', but I am lead to understand that the translation is far more faithful to the original text than Glenny's version; personally this means something to me as I want to read it (short of learning Russian) as close to the way Bulgakov wrote it as possible.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Beyond Good and Deville, 7 May 2010
By 
Dr. Delvis Memphistopheles "FIST" (London) - See all my reviews
(VINE VOICE)    (TOP 500 REVIEWER)   
This review is from: The Master And Margarita (Penguin Classics) (Paperback)
After waving good a deft hand to the tall tales of Sunday school; the green grass had grown thick and exuberant, over my recollection of New Testament stories. Jolted out of amnesia, to be returned back to the execution on Golgotha it was not something I relished. Here it is not conducted in the sing song parson, insomniac cure of a Sunday morning sermon. Bulgarov returns to live inside the man, not gaze dropped jaw and slobbering over a never a god statue.

The stories are neatly wrapped in the skins of various plot threads. One main component, seguing into men's lives; dominating Soviet literary worlds of the 30's, is the power of patronage.

Derived from party connections as opposed to studying at Oxbridge - these threads allowed a man to be heard. A kind of hush pervaded the Soviet land as no one but a drunken revisionist would declare a religious belief, as it created very cold consequences. Power however lay in the hands of those who evolved and then shattered fates along with careers and lives.

Bulgarov's allegory transcends Soviet politiks. Illuminating the present, it is also prescient for lighting up the current crop of dreamweavers.

The book whirls back and forwards over 2 thousand years, inhabiting the conscience of Pontius Pilate, the lonely coward on the distant shore. Breathing in his skin it pulses to the incessant searing heat, replete with tortured self doubts and the cloud of oppression bearing down heavily, crushing his febrile conscience.

The powerful man's psychology becomes finely shredded, a deft piece of surreal magic, weaved at a time of constant door knocking forever pulling up a nauseating dread, signalling the end of the line. Captured in the novel; disappearances, deaths, disfigurements and the banishment's. All the result of intrigue and jealousies or just on the basis of whim; puff a quick flick of an eye flutter and off they go. Bulgarov sucked in the rancid 1930's air, held it in his lungs for a modicum and then blasted it out into the sterility of the 21st C.

Woland the man who turns the earth decides to decapitate this literary/artistic head. An allegory on those who became the bystanders of the sullen regime, stopping Bulgarov publishing this work. Revenge or satire, it intermingles, the ball of the living dead, a richly detailed surreal flight of fantastical realism brings back conscience and torture.The theatre escapades whisks a Rasputin figure to charm the clothes off the intelligensia. People wanted to believe in the collective hoax, and so strip off their ersatz dignity and parade finely naked. No change there then.

This devil is not the deity of the damned but the Pan of the people. He turns up with his acolytes and unleashes a pre-planned chaos. Forever nomadic, he is neither good nor evil, doling out both spiteful vengeance and random kindness, more human than godlike - perhaps a nod to Nietzsche.

The book challenges binary compartmentalisation and is ultimately a vision beyond good and evil. It ranges across surreal to uncover the banal, written as a would be companion to a colder, harsher, Kafka, it reveals a state of living dread when power gazes with its decreasing pupils into the individual soul.

Is the gaze returned or does the body just squirm?
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32 of 35 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Incredible, imaginative read., 3 Feb. 2006
Every so often you may come across a book that defies many of your previous expectations; this is one of those books. It begins at a brisk pace as you are left in wonder at Bulgakov's ability to describe the world he wants you to believe in, to become part of. Human emotions, reactions and beliefs all surge to the fore as his understanding of human thought and language turns you into a spectator of his events in The Master and Margerita, no more are you a reader but an innocent bystander in Moscow, watching as his imagination unfolds before you. Description and dialogue flow with ease throughout, never overcomplicating the book or pulling you out of the immersive trance it puts you under. As you're wheeled away from one spectacular event to another, your mind wonders at the intricacies of the authors imagination.
The book follows the exploits of The Devil, and a number of his companions and servants as he wreaks havoc throughout Moscow, his sometimes dark and disturbing actions softened by the wonderfully satirical way in which Bulgakov writes. As well as punishing those who have sinned, the book and The Devils short existence in Moscow is directed towards the Master and Margerita, but to explain this without you having read it would be unfair.
The story is punctuated throughout with the story of Pontius Pilate in Jerusalem immediately before and after the execution of Jesus, their conversations, thoughts and the physical actions, that leaves you begging for more after each and every chapter. Never before have I become so involved in a book as this, wishing and willing the story to go on for ever as the characters lives are up heaved in front of your very eyes, paying for the sins they have committed in The Devils own unique way.
Yes this is a difficult book, in terms of the number of characters and the different plotlines and it will not be for everyone, no one thing ever is, but if you believe yourself to be appreciative of fine literature then please please please get this book, it is enjoyable, importantly, and contains a brilliant story.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Masterful Master and Margarita, 12 Jun. 2012
This review is from: The Master And Margarita (Penguin Classics) (Paperback)
I first read The Master & Margarita, by Mikhail Bulgakov, when I was 17 and I re-read it every year or so, it still makes me laugh (a lot) and it still makes me think (a lot) which is what I look for in a book...and in a person! It weaves a pretty bizarre web, which, like all good webs, you can get caught up in. There are some references to politics and philosophy and the human condition in there, but don't worry about them too much the first time you read it. Just don't take your eyes off the cat.
An ancient wandering holy man, an incarcerated wondering artist and a malevolent visitor, are the unholy trinity that Bulgakov unleashes on an unsuspecting and unbelieving Stalinist Russia. 1930s Moscow, a city in denial of God is visited by The Devil himself. Among his demonic accomplices is the gigantic black tom-cat, Behemoth, with a smoking gun and a fondness for games of life or death. They immediately begin to create madness and mayhem, insisting to the good, but a little greedy, citizens that God does indeed exist... as do they! This novel is an overwhelming and remarkable achievement, its three plots thread together into a deliciously wicked and disarmingly honest glimpse of the human condition. It raises some very interesting questions, but doesn't bother to answer most of them. What it does do is draw the reader into its absurd world of an imagined past, a bleak present and an ambiguous future. Its lights are bright and its shadows are dark and it demands that we accept that ours are too.
Some characters make pacts with God and others with The Devil, with much the same results. But like Keats, Bulgakov reminds the reader that we all need some occasional truth and beauty in our precious inconsequential lives. So enjoy the ludicrous ride and be sure to look out for the bear that drinks too much champagne and the love sick witch. But most importantly, just don't take your eyes of the cat!
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A revenge on mediocrity..., 28 Jan. 2011
By 
Dr. G. SPORTON "groggery1" (Birmingham UK) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: The Master And Margarita (Penguin Classics) (Paperback)
Bulgakov's chaotic masterpiece may have nothing to offer in terms of structure, but as a testament to the vitality of imagination combined with a treatise about the abuse of power, it remains unrivalled. The sensuality of the imagery, the Devil's amusing retinue and the surreal situations that emerge when the characters attempt to make sense of the capriciousness of the Soviet Union have made this a massive favourite with readers since its unlikely publication in the 1960s. Bulgakov's achievement is to become a character in his own novel, a victim of the same problems as the Master, and afraid enough of the authorities to burn the original manuscript. His savage, spiteful satire on the Writers' Union is often overlooked for the charm of the love story, where a writer made miserable by rejection is revived by the love of a beautiful woman, though much of the book is devoted to the appalling arrogance of the approved culture the Soviet writing fraternity represented. The mediocrity of their creativity can be contrasted with the imaginative brilliance of Woland and his henchmen, who mete out particularly undignified punishments for the self-important, eventually burning down the official writer's restaurant as revenge for their crimes against literature. This was a brave book, written in dangerous circumstances, and that it survives at all is testament to Woland's aphorism that 'manuscripts don't burn'.
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The Master And Margarita (Penguin Classics)
The Master And Margarita (Penguin Classics) by Mikhail Bulgakov (Paperback - 6 Sept. 2007)
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