A Diabolical Treat: The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov

“Manuscripts don’t burn.”

The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov

An audacious revision of the stories of Faust and Pontius Pilate, The Master and Margarita is recognized as one of the essential classics of modern Russian literature. The novel’s vision of Soviet life in the 1930s is so ferociously accurate that it could not be published during its author’s lifetime and appeared only in a censored edition in the 1960s. Its truths are so enduring that its language has become part of the common Russian speech.

One hot spring, the devil arrives in Moscow, accompanied by a retinue that includes a beautiful naked witch and an immense talking black cat with a fondness for chess and vodka. The visitors quickly wreak havoc in a city that refuses to believe in either God or Satan. But they also bring peace to two unhappy Muscovites: one is the Master, a writer pilloried for daring to write a novel about Christ and Pontius Pilate; the other is Margarita, who loves the Master so deeply that she is willing literally to go to hell for him. (Goodreads)

The Master and Margarita is one of those books that require an extra amount of effort to get into but once you do, you get obsessed with it. I read two different translations at the same time before I decided that the e-book version was working better for me than that of my physical copy. The said edition is translated by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky.

“What would your good do if evil did not exist, and what would the earth look like if shadows disappeared from it?”

This is a multi-layered and complicated book that is full of fantastical events and a mischievous but adorable crew. Expect a lot of demonic naughtiness and witchy shenanigans. It blurs the lines between madness and sanity, and between sin and virtue. Though set in 1930s Russia, the novel explores politics and philosophy that are still relevant today. The diabolical humor also engages the reader in totally unexpected ways.

“Shadows are cast by objects and people. Here is the shadow of my sword. Trees and living beings also have shadows. Do you want to skin the whole earth, tearing all the trees and living things off it, because of your fantasy of enjoying bare light? You’re a fool.”

I have filed this under Books to Reread. I feel that I have yet to discover more from this intricate novel. It’s one of those classic novels that is even more appreciated because of its place in history. I love the challenge it gives the readers. It’s a reminder for us to confront our inner darkness and be brave enough to embrace it as part of our humanity. It redefines how we perceive evil vs. good in reference to what is dictated by a society where individuals always value hypocrisy over honesty.

It’s a brilliant literary piece that may mean differently to every reader, and will offer something else entirely at every visit of its pages–never giving up its secrets all at once. Another surprise from this book is the hopeful note in the midst of all the violent frenzy. Indeed there is beauty in madness and peace in chaos. The power to see it is the best kind of magic in the world.

“Everything will turn out right, the world is built on that.”

Overall Rating: 4.5/5

About the Author

Mikhail Bulgakov

Mikhail Bulgakov was born in Kyiv, Russian Empire (today Ukraine) on May 15 1891. He studied and briefly practised medicine and, after indigent wanderings through revolutionary Russia and the Caucasus, he settled in Moscow in 1921. 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 Art 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. His later works treat the subject of the artist and the tyrant under the guise of historical characters, with plays such as Molière, staged in 1936, Don Quixote, staged in 1940, and Pushkin, staged in 1943. He also wrote a brilliant biography, highly original in form, of his literary hero, Molière, but The Master and Margarita, a fantasy novel about the devil and his henchmen set in modern Moscow, is generally considered his masterpiece. Fame, at home and abroad, was not to come until a quarter of a century after his death in Moscow in 1940.

Book Details

The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov

The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov
Paperback, First Vintage International Edition (US / CAN), 335 pages
Published March 1996 by Vintage International (first published 1967
ISBN 0679760806 (ISBN13: 9780679760801)
Edition language: English
Original title: Мастер и Маргарита
Characters: Lucifer, Pontius Pilate, Caiaphas, Woland, Behemot, Jesus, Master, Margarita Nicolaevna, Ivan Bezdomny, Yeshua Ha-Nozri, David (King of Israel)
Genres: Fiction | Classics | Fantasy | Russian Literature | Magical Realism

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