The Master And Margarita

The Master & Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov is a completely wonderful book. Written during some of the darkest days of Stalin's regime Master is part satire, part magic realism, part fantasy. It's funny, romantic, and angry. A truly astonishing read - don't just take my word for it, it's been included in most lists of top books of the twentieth century.

Bulgakov started writing it in 1928, his works were starting to fall foul of the Soviet censor, and it was clear that Master would stand little chance of being published. At one point he attempted to destroy the manuscript, but, as is frequently stated in the novel "Manuscripts don't burn."

The book was virtually completed at the time of the author's death in 1940. For 20 years the novel lay in waiting, and then, much to everyone's astonishment it was published in a Soviet magazine in the early 1960's. Although very abridged, it was completely astonishing that it had got past the censor, and all of literary Russia was taken aback by the brilliance which had suddenly been unleashed upon them.

The novel tells two parallel stories - the principal plot concerns a visit to Moscow by the devil and his cohorts, they cause complete chaos, and yet the worst works of the devil only parallel what is actually going on in Soviet society - they have an uncanny ability for making people disappear, and for memories to be erased. The devil arrives after overhearing a conversation about Jesus - bizarrely in Stalin's Soviet Union it was considered wrong to mention anything about Jesus as a fact - so saying that Jesus lived, even if what you're actually saying is that he lived but was not divine, was considered every bit as wrong as preaching about his divinity.

An itinerant poet driven mad by his encounter with the group ends up in a mental home, where he meets a mysterious novelist known only as the Master. The Master tells the poet of his love for Margarita, and about his book - the second thread of the novel - a story about Pontius Pilate and his meeting with a man named Yeshua (clearly Jesus, although references to biblical events use obscure names - Yeshua not Jesus, Yershalaim for Jerusalem). At the core of the novel is repression, and the question of how you deal with it; whether it's censorship of free speech in the Soviet Union or biblical Jerusalem. It's also a tale of redemption through love, whether that's divine or human or even human touched by the divine.

It's a brilliantly funny book, beautifully written with a truly cinematic style. It's one of those books that just unrolls itself onto a screen in your mind, and flows. As you will have realised I think it's fabulous, it's quite unlike anything else - please read it, you may love it, you may hate it, but this book deserves to be read.


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