Thursday, December 04, 2008

Reader's Diary #419- Mikhail Bulgakov: The Master and Margarita (translated by

A friend of mine recently told me that he was halfway through a reread this book. I've never been much of a rereader, so I was intrigued. What about this book compelled him to go back for more? I was also one book short of completing the Russian Reading Challenge, so I knew I had to borrow it.

The Master and Margarita is one the most bizarre books I've read in some time. I can see how subsequent reads would help in the understanding of it and perhaps in picking up on details otherwise missed. It opens with a 20th century scene of two Russian citizens sitting on park bench debating whether or not satirizing Jesus's life lends an authenticity to a life they claim to have been fiction. Before long the two men are approached by a stranger who seems intrigued by the conversation. Before long the stranger tells them the story of Pontius Pilate and his decision to condemn Jesus to death. At the end the stranger reveals that he'd been there.

But, by the time you get to the part where Natasha is seen naked and riding through the air on the back of Nikolai Ivanovich, who has been transformed into a hog, those earlier chapters will seem mundane.

The Master and Margarita, I'm told, brilliantly satirized Russian society. I could also pick out all sorts of philosophical themes (that "good" only exists on a scale, therefore "evil" is necessary seemed to be pop up on a few occasions). It could probably be read as metafiction. One line that stood out to earlier readers, "Manuscripts don't burn," is especially interesting when one reads the introduction by translator Richard Pevear, who tells us that Bulgakov had thrown earlier versions into the fire. These ideas probably warrant a 2nd reading.

On the first reading, however, it was just a fun, wild ride and I'm glad to have been entertained.

Here were all selections for the Russian Reading Challenge:

1. Alexander Pushkin- The Snow Storm (short story)
2. Vladimir Nabokov- Lolita
3. Ivan Turgenev- A Sportsman's Notebook
4. Mikhail Bulgakov- The Master and Margarita

I read two that were on my original list of choices, but replaced the others. It would be hard to choose between Lolita and The Master and Margarita as a favourite of the four, but I'll pick The Master and Margarita simply because it didn't make me feel icky. My least favourite was A Sportsman's Notebook.

Cross-posted at The Russian Reading Challenge.


Melwyk said...

I also found this a bizarre and wild book! For rereads or further investigation, take a look at this annotated site I discovered. It was very helpful!

raidergirl3 said...

My knowledge of this book begins (and ends) with its appearance on The Amazing Race last week. Which was awesome.

Your review with make me leave it at that. Sounds too weird for me.

Teena in Toronto said...

Sounds bizarre!

I just finished #11:

Teena in Toronto said...

Hi again!

I finished #12 tonight:

Ara 13 said...

Sounds like a good recommendation. I am always on the lookout for good metafiction. Ara 13, Author of Drawers & Booths.

John Mutford said...

Melanie: Great site, thanks!

Raidergirl: Since we quit T.V. back in June, missing the new season of Amazing Race was one of the hardest things to miss yet. But we're hoping this season will come out on DVD, so no spoilers!

Teena: You're almost there!

Ara13: While there are elements of metafiction, I think that's just one out of 100 angles someone could explore this book.

craig mj said...

lolita isn't russian lit. It's decidedly American lit. written by a writer living the USA at the time of creating the novel.