23.4.09

Thursday Book


The Master and Margarita - Mikhail Bulgakov

The Master - so-called by his besotted and illicit lover Margarita - is a struggling writer in Stalin's Moscow. The novel he has slaved over obsessively relates the events of Pontius Pilate as he executes Yeshua Ha-Nozri - a peaceful philosopher whose every movement and word is commited (with questionable accuracy) to parchment by the former tax collector Matthew Levi. But Soviet critics tear his work to shreds, and the Master has a breakdown, disappearing completely from Margarita's life.

Fortunately, the Devil has just arrived in Moscow in the guise of a foreign magician, along with a retinue of supernatural oddballs including a talking cat and a naked, vampiric witch. They're certainly up to no good, but they also offer a ray of hope to Margarita: if she'll agree to be hostess for Satan's Ball on Walpurgis Night, perhaps she can restore the Master - and the manuscript he threw on the fire.

All this is related in a narrative voice that veers between prim documentarian and chatty pal, occasionally taking on a character of its own. Certainly, much of the first half of the book would probably be cut out by a modern editor, but once things got going, The Master and Margarita carried me away with its imaginative surrealism, its sly and provocative wit, and its tender moments of humanity.

4 comments:

Noyb said...

Any translation you particularly recommend?

Pacian said...

Well, I've only read the edition pictured, translated by Larissa Volokhonsky and Richard Pevear, which does seem to be quite well regarded, along with Burgin and O'Connor's translation.

There are also more readable and less accurate translations out there. And it's worth noting that some of the old translations used editions that were incomplete or censored.

tinker said...

I know you shouldn't judge a book by its cover - but that is certainly an intriguing one, and your review makes it sound quite interesting too. I'll have to see if it's available here...

Michelle said...

I would buy this book for the cover art alone.