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106 of 109 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 Sep 2000 by S. J. Dillon

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8 of 8 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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106 of 109 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars I would give this 6 stars but I was not allowed., 4 Sep 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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142 of 148 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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8 of 8 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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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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4 of 4 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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13 of 14 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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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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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Indulgent, captivating, important, subtle, witty, 21 Dec 1999
By 
Mr. M. H. Dewey (London, England) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
At times I found the lack of the discipline of naturalism produced a writing that was indulgent and annoying. At other times - a great "seance" in the theatre, the "flight" over Moscow - the rejection of naturalism allowed an exuberance and energy of prose that was captivating. There was something pythonesque in the comedy and something like David Lynch in the exploration of evil. Generally though the book was a triumph for the medium of novels. A giant , talking cat would look ridiculous in most other mediums. It is a novel about big issues - the notes in my edition helped a lot in relating these to Stalinist Russia. It is also a novel about writing novels, but this is done with a subtlety and wit that a lot of naval inspecting writers lack.
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33 of 37 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Terror, secrets, foreigners, jesus, death and manuscripts, 2 Aug 2001
By A Customer
Stalin's hierarchical, monolithic political structures of the 1930's intensified the struggle against "enemies of the people" by arresting and executing over 15 million Russians, amongst them managers, intelligentsia and writers. The Secret Police orchestrated State terror by raiding the houses of intellectuals at night if they were suspected of satirising the Soviet state. Bulgakov himself slept with a suitcase full of warm clothes beneath his bed, should the knock at the door at dawn be the KGB. If caught with the manuscript of The Master and Margarita, he would have been sent without trial to the prison camps of Siberia, where he would have been worked through exhaustion into death.
An appreciation of the harsh ideological backdrop to this vital and extraordinary novel makes its vision all the more astonishing. Bulgakov examines with a breathtaking wit such subversive issues as institutionalised atheism, Satan's sypmpathetic aspect, the similarities between the political and social systems of Pontius Pilate's Jerusalem and Stalin's Moscow, the arbitrariness of justice, the redemptive power of love (in this case adulterous), and the human effort towards regeneration through compassion and truth. In his generous yet clearly defined system of justice cowards are humiliated, guilty as they are of the worst sin, and the fearless are rewarded with a thin beam of moonlight, to freedom and salvation.
The Master and Magarita is as great a text as any I have ever read; Bulgakov's prodigious verbal gift is equal to Joyce or even Shakespeare, and as such deserves a special, exalted place at the pinnacle of World literature.
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31 of 35 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Russian literature at its best, 8 April 2006
By 
James (Norfolk, NE USA) - See all my reviews
My friend recommended this book to me, and what actually made me to buy it was because he considered it his favorite book of all time. I agree with him about that. It is an amazing book. Not only that, I developed an interest in the author's other works. Nevertheless, this is the best book written by Mikhail Bulgakov. It is an absolute masterpiece, a classic accepted in Russia and the rest of the world.
"MASTER AND MARGARITA" is about purges Stalin ordered in the Soviet Union. The curious thing about this book is that the purges are depicted not to have been carried out Stalin's men, but rather by Satan himself, and in the manner of Baron Munchaussen, we get to know of a huge talking cat. Like animal farm, the greater meaning of the book is revealed through the intelligent though bizarre, compelling and humorous story. One is constantly left anticipating what the next page holds. There are so many layers and so many little details that one wonders how the author managed to put them together.
Bulgakov is the Soviet version of Imperial Russia's Dostoevsky, but unlike Dostoyevsky who had a mastery of the mind/soul Bulgakov mastery is in the literature of oppression. I have recommended this book to many friends and family and recommend it to any reader interested in the enigma that is Russia, especially Stalinist Russia. Other interesting stories set in Russia are THE UNION MOUJIK,TARAS BULBA, PUTIN'S RUSSIA, THE LIFE AND DEATH OF LENIN, WAR AND PEACE. Also note that you are sure to find the widest selection of odd and creepy characters in this book .
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The Master And Margarita (Penguin Classics)
The Master And Margarita (Penguin Classics) by Mikhail Bulgakov (Paperback - 6 Sep 2007)
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