Top positive review
9 people found this helpful
great book, great translation
on 24 February 2011
This book has got to be one of the best in any language... A man in Stalin's Moscow writes a novel about Jesus. Satan turns up with a retinue of demons, among whom is a giant gun-totin' cat. Much havoc ensues. Pigs fly, choirs of bureauctrats sing folk songs, and lovers find happiness (sort of).
Social satire? Fantasy? Historical fiction? Religious fable? Romantic comedy? Existential tragedy? Yes. ...ish. It's a tough one to classify: a lot of labels fit it, but none quite describes all of it... Basically, if you want to know what Russian literature is about but can't be bothered to wade through the 19th century classics, read this - it distils much of what is best about it: the big questions, the sweeping romance, the darkly absurd and phantasmagoric sense of humour. You want "the Russian soul" - it's all there.
The book was first published in Russia in the early 70s and gained cult status pretty much immediately. These days it is very much part of the unofficial Russian canon, and many expressions have entered everyday language. What's it like to actually read? Well, despite having at least three or four core plot lines, this is a pretty tight piece of writing and, as Russian novels go, a comparatively short one - 384 pages. As far as the language goes - hats off to the translators! Bulgakov's language is dense, elaborate, and highly ideomatic. It's hard to translate, and there are plenty of crap translations about.This translation is the best one I've seen for getting across the unique music and atmosphere of the Russian original. That said, the original does expect a bit of an effort on the reader's part - but it's worth it. It really is one of those books where you get out what you put in.
Can I fault this book? Well, I suppose, Bulgakov is pretty partisan, and there are definitely good guys and bad guys. But then, maybe, in a book where Jesus and Satan turn up, that's to be expected.