The Master and Margarita

mastermargarita

About the Author:

Mikhail Bulgakov was born in 1891 in Kiev, now the capital of Ukraine. He studied medicine at Kiev University. He was drafted by the Whites (anti-Bolsheviks) in 1918 as a field doctor and was sent to the Caucasus. After he left the military, he began working as a journalist. He wrote White Guard (1924), an autobiographical novel about his experience in the civil war, and The Days of the Turbins (1926), a play based on White Guard. The latter, believed to be one of Joseph Stalin’s favorites, helped establish Bulgakov as one of Russia’s distinguished playwrights.

About the Book:

Mikhail Bulgakov’s devastating satire of Soviet life was written during the darkest period of Stalin’s regime. Combining two distinct yet interwoven parts-one set in ancient Jerusalem, one in contemporary Moscow-the novel veers from moods of wild theatricality with violent storms, vampire attacks, and a Satanic ball; to such somber scenes as the meeting of Pilate and Yeshua, and the murder of Judas in the moonlit garden of Gethsemane; to the substanceless, circus-like reality of Moscow. Its central characters, Woland (Satan) and his retinue-including the vodka-drinking, black cat, Behemoth; the poet, Ivan Homeless; Pontius Pilate; and a writer known only as The Master, and his passionate companion, Margarita-exist in a world that blends fantasy and chilling realism, an artful collage of grostesqueries, dark comedy, and timeless ethical questions. (goodreads.com)

Throughout the novel, Bulgakov has exploited art’s capacity to represent the unassimilable, the unfathomable, the illogical. At the same time, he reminds us of its related capacity to fulfill dreams. The results elicit terror, laughter, sadness, and wonder. (penguin.com)

The Master and Margarita was known to only a small group of people. It was not published officially because of its apparent subversive content. However, the first part of the manuscript was first published in Moscow in 1966 by the monthly magazine, Moskva, and  the second part in the year that followed.

My Thoughts:

This satirical novel blew my mind! I could not even find the words apt to describe it. Bulgakov is a brave creative literary genius!
I found it hard to fully understand the meaning behind the vividly descriptive passages and images primarily because of my lack of knowledge of Soviet Russian history and Stalin’s regime. However, such ignorance, I believe, made it easy to let lose my biases (esp. religious and moral), read it acontextually, surrender to the whole experience, and therefore enjoy its playful phantasmical exploration and presentation of bizarre worlds. In short, it is a hilarious dark comedy that can only be appreciated with an open-mind.

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If you have read the novel, perhaps these questions might help in your reflection:

  • To what extent would you take control of your own fate?
  • Would acts of goodness have the same meaning in the absence of acts of evil? Why or why not?
  • How does a religious experience differ from aesthetic experience? What are the similarities?
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miSyel’s quotes

"The beauty of the truth is that it need not be proclaimed or believed. It skips from soul to soul, changing form each time it touches, but it is what it is."— Mark Helprin