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Mikhail Bulgakov

The Master and Margarita

Category: Fiction | Published: 1973 | Review Added: Unknown

Rating: 4 - A top read

A feast of traditional Russian buffoonery from the depths of Stalinist repression. The Devil makes a visit to Moscow and wreaks havoc among its inhabitants, accompanied by two demons, a huge black cat and a naked woman. The hero is called the Master, and his lover is Margarita; but I'm afraid I can't remember what they do or what the plot really is.

In a parallel story, a man called Yeshua - better known as Jesus - is sentenced to death by Pontius Pilate. The book ends with a fantasy scene in which these two - to say the least - contrasting strands are brought together.

The "meaning" of this novel is rather elusive, but it is clearly meant as more than a bit of surreal escapism. One way of looking at it is as an attempt to belittle the seriousness of the terrible things that happen in the world. Communist functionaries are made to appear harmless and foolish, and the dreariness of life under a repressive regime is suddenly lifted by the arrival of the Devil. In fact, the most remarkable thing of all about this book, given the environment of its genesis, is that it is so uplifting to read.

The inversion is clear: the modern world is turned into a fantasic circus, while the most mythologised life of all, that of Jesus Christ, becomes a simple, sober and moving story of an innocent man's persecution. What is to be made of this? Well, one rather glib spin to put on it might be that mankind should take the spiritual side of life more seriously, and the material side less so. Over and above this, though, this messy masterpiece is a celebration of the imagination and of the idea of art as escape from life. The sheer wackiness of it makes it well worth reading, regardless of any deeper meanings.

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