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"Just be who you are, calm and clear and bright." - Richard Bach, Illusions: The Adventures of a Reluctant Messiah

Great Book #11: The Master and Margarita

masterWho told you that there is no true, faithful, eternal love in this world! May the liar’s vile tongue be cut out! Follow me, my reader, and me alone, and I will show you such a love!

This is going to be one of the shorter 100-great-book appreciations I write, not because I didn’t love Mikhail Bulgakov’s The Master and Margarita, but because I loved it enough to write about it elsewhere (you’ll see). I have vague memories of three Irishmen recommending this book over afternoon pints, all on separate occasions, six or seven years ago. I put it on my great books list, tried to read it, and lost interest midway through the second chapter. Then I met Amy at Squam, who said it was one of her favorite novels of all time and that I must read it PRONTO. (The Volokhonsky/Pevear translation, mind!) So I gave it another chance, and I’m so glad I did.

‘Everything will turn out right, the world is built on that.’

The Devil pays a visit to Moscow; mayhem ensues. Naked women run shrieking through the streets, money rains from a theater ceiling, men vanish out of their offices and apartments (one literally becomes an empty suit), a clubhouse full of hack writers goes up in flames, a fat man in a lilac suit gets stuck in a barrel of herring, a pig flies, a cat boozes and swears and shoots a pistol and rides a streetcar. A fanged minion gives our heroine a face cream that allows her to soar above the apartment buildings, so she can go skinnydipping in a far-off river under the full moon. There are only sane men in the madhouse, Satan throws a helluva party, and all the city’s hypocrites (which is nearly everyone) are gleefully exposed. (Crooked bureaucrats are systematically removed from their positions with particular relish.) Best of all, a good woman loves a good man and gets to go on loving him for the rest of eternity.

with sorcery, as everyone knows, once it starts, there’s no stopping it.

The pandemonium in modern-day Moscow is juxtaposed with wonderfully vivid scenes from ancient Jerusalem, which are excerpts of a novel written and burned and re-written (see below) by the eponymous Master (the aforementioned good man). The Master and Margarita is a big glorious “eff you” to Stalin and his repressive regime, and even though Bulgakov had to write it in secret and the book wasn’t published for more than 25 years after his death, he managed to create a work that revels in its own “artistic and spiritual freedom” (as the back cover says). Irony has never been quite this much fun.

1 Comment to Great Book #11: The Master and Margarita

  1. Kate's Gravatar Kate
    October 18, 2011 at 1:00 pm | Permalink

    This seems to be a particularly relevant to have read it considering the current political climate in Moscow. Sounds like an interesting read!

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Hi! I'm Camille. I only write stories that could never ever happen in real life, though I do believe in real-life magic. If we were in the same room I'd fix you a cup of tea, but for now we'll have to settle for a virtual connection. I'm really glad you're here.