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The Master And Margarita Paperback – 6 Sep 2007
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One of the truly great Russian novels of [the twentieth] century. NEW YORK TIMES BOOK REVIEW The book is by turns hilarious, mysterious, contemplative, and poignant . . . A great work. CHICAGO TRIBUNE Bulgakov s The Master and Margarita is a soaring, dazzling novel; an extraordinary fusion of wildly disparate elements. It is a concerto played simultaneously on the organ, the bagpipes, and a pennywhistle, while someone sets off fireworks between the players feet. NEW YORK TIMES Fine, funny, imaginative . . . The Master and Margarita stands squarely in the great Gogolesque tradition of satiric narrative. NEWSWEEK A wild surrealistic romp . . . Brilliantly flamboyant and outrageous. Joyce Carol Oates Sparkling, enchanting, funny, deeply serious and sometimes baffling . . . [The Master and Margarita is] a liberating, exuberant social and political satire combined with a profound moral and political allegory . . . A bravura performance of truly heroic virtuosity, a carnival of the imagination. from the Introduction by Simon Franklin"
My favorite novel it s just the greatest explosion of imagination, craziness, satire, humor, and heart. Daniel Radcliffe
One of the truly great Russian novels of [the twentieth] century. The New York Times Book Review
By turns hilarious, mysterious, contemplative, and poignant . . . A great work. Chicago Tribune
A soaring, dazzling novel; an extraordinary fusion of wildly disparate elements. It is a concerto played simultaneously on the organ, the bagpipes, and a pennywhistle, while someone sets off fireworks between the players feet. The New York Times
Fine, funny, imaginative . . . The Master and Margarita stands squarely in the great Gogolesque tradition of satiric narrative. Newsweek
A wild surrealistic romp . . . Brilliantly flamboyant and outrageous. Joyce Carol Oates
Beautiful, strange, tender, scarifying, and incandescent . . . One of those novels that, even in translation, make one feel that not one word could have been written differently . . . Margarita has too many achievements to list for one thing, a plot scudding with action and suspense, not exactly a hallmark of Russian literature. . . . This luminous translation [is] distinguished by not only the stylistic elegance that has become a hallmark of Pevear and Volokhonsky translations but also a supreme ear for the sound and meaning of Soviet life. . . . It s time for The Master and Margarita to rise to its rightful place in the canon of great world literature. . . . As literature, it will live forever. Boris Fishman, from the Foreword"
"My favorite novel--it's just the greatest explosion of imagination, craziness, satire, humor, and heart." --Daniel Radcliffe
About the Author
Mikhail Bulgakov was born in Kiev in May 1891. His sympathetic portrayal of White characters in his stories, in the plays The Days of the Turbins (The White Guard), which enjoyed great success at the Moscow Arts Theatre in 1926, and Flight (1927), and his satirical treatment of the officials of the New Economic Plan, led to growing criticism, which became violent after the play The Purple Island. He also wrote a brilliant biography of his literary hero, Jean-Baptiste Molière, but The Master and Margarita is generally considered his masterpiece. Fame, at home and abroad, was not to come until a quarter of a century after his death at Moscow in 1940.
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That lack of clarity seems to me to be part of the problem. I can easily understand the complaints from other reviewer that this is an over rated book or they just can’t see what all the fuss is about. I might say that staring reading Bulgakov with the The Master and Margarita is bit of a mistake, but to be honest I don’t think familiarity with Bulgakov’s over works is much help here.
Personally I don’t think focusing on the Stalinist aspects is too helpful if you are looking to understand the story. Sure characters disappear and are manipulated into falling fowl of the authorities e.g. being driven mad, having the police turn up and discover they have been hording (contra to their knowledge) foreign currency. The underhand nature of how such nastiness comes about certainly fits with fear of falling fowl of the authorities in Stalinist Russia (perhaps reminiscent of show trials), but I think this is where it ends. Wotan is not Stalin and the events of the title characters stories do not fit this mould.
A concern expressed is that of cowardice as a breading ground for vice, but I don’t think that the parable unlocked by this, it is not clear who has been a coward, or whether Woland’s acts are in some way attributable to anyone’s or any group’s action (or lack of it as we are talking about cowardice). The point is that this is not a simple book, it is certainly engaging.
As with my other reviews of Bulgakov novels I suggest reading at a fast pace, the novel flows quickly in any case, but reading quickly helps comprehension as you can see connections that much easier I you can keep things in your head whist reading.
I also found this to be a bit darker than other Bulgakov novels. I think it is the general lack of light relief. Some nastiness occurs, but even if you think the victim is being let off it transpires that they haven’t. An example would be character that has his head torn off. Public pleas result in the head being restored, sounds good, but no, the poor person is traumatised an ends up an asylum. Instances like thus give a relentless and unforgiving feel to the book.
I would suggest perseverance and I think repeat readings and reflection will yield increasing pleasure.
A final note, I have seen other reviewers have made comment on translation. My translation is by Larissa Volokhonsky published by penguin classics. I am not going to make any claims like this is the best/definitive/most accurate translation, but I will say that I found the prose flowed well and the reading seemed easy and the book was a pleasure to read as result so I was very happy with the translation.
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.