Friday, June 17, 2011

Review: The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov

The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov, trans. by Richar Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky

Reviewed by Ingrid

Published: 1966

It's about: Disguised as a foreigner, the devil makes a visit to Soviet Russia. He brings with him his friends Azazello - a short, red-haired man with a fang, Koroviev - a tall, skinny man that wears broken glasses, and Behemoth - a black cat who walks on his hind legs, shoots guns, and speaks perfect Russian. Meanwhile, with the help and support of his love Margarita, a talented writer known only as 'the master' is writing a book about Pontius Pilate and the death of Jesus Christ in Jerusalem.

 Bulgakov meant for this book to be a satire of the literary scene in Soviet Russia and of Soviet life in general.

I thought: This story is unlike anything I've ever read before, except maybe Goethe's Faust which has a similar, ghosty feel. I have to say, from an American point of view Soviet Russia seems totally creepy and mysterious. This book fits that mood PERFECTLY.

In fact, I noticed that this book was influenced not only by Goethe's Faust but also earlier version of the Faust legend. There is a moment near the beginning where a certain character's head was cut off. This is the fate of the Faust character at the end of early versions of the Faust legend as a part of making a deal with the devil.

However, my very favorite part was near the end, when Woland (the devil) is sitting on a rooftop overlooking Moscow. The footnote kindly told me, "Woland seems almost consciously to adopt the pose of Rodin's famous sculpture known as the Thinker, actually the central figure over his Gates of Hell." COOL! Rodin's Gates of Hell is one of the coolest, craziest and most interesting scultpures I've ever seen. I actually wrote a paper on it once. Love it. Love the way Woland is looking over Moscow like the Thinker is looking over Hell. (This part is also interesting because it also alludes to a moment near beginning when Pontius Pilate is looking over Jerusalem.)
The Thinker overlooking the Gates of Hell

Me in front of Rodin's Gates of Hell in Paris. Don't look at my frizzy hair. 

Verdict: Stick it on the shelf!!!

Reading Recommendations: If you're tired of the same old storyline and want to try something different, exciting, and weird, pick this one up!

Warnings: Meh, I don't know. Some blood and stuff, probably. Can't remember. Stuff about the devil.

Favorite excerpts:
     Margarita sat in front of the pier-glass, with just a bathrobe thrown over her naked body, and in black suede shoes. A gold bracelet with a watch lau in fron of Margarita, beside the box she had recieved from Azazello ... Margarita's heartgave a terrible thump, so that she could not even take hold of the box right away. Having mastered herself, Margarita opened i and saw in the box a rich, yellowish cream. It seemed to her that it smelled of swamp slime. With the tip of her finger, Margarita put a small dab of cream on her palm, the smell of swamp grass and forest grew stronger, and then she began rubbing the cream into her forehead and cheeks with her palm.
     The cream spread easily and, as it seemed to Margarita, evaporated at once. Having rubbed several times, Margarita glanced into the mirror and dropped the box right on her watch crystal, which became covered with cracks. Margarita closed her eyes, then glanced once again and burst into stormy laughter.

What I'm reading next: The Second Sex by Simone de Beauvoir

*Stay tuned for a picture of me standing next to Simone de Beauvoir's grave as part of my review of The Second Sex. I know you're excited.