“The Master and Margarita” by Mikhail Bulgakov

The Master and Margarita

(Author: Mikhail Bulgakov) + (Year: 1967) + (Goodreads)


Review:

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

* Note: Finished this on 20th August 2009. Rereading from 4th November 2014. What a marvelous experience. I loved it the first time around. And Now…

…I have realized that this is not just a book that I love. It is so much more. The Master and Margarita contains absolutely everything that a reader could look for in a book, plus a whole constellation of things that the reader wouldn’t even know they needed until they found this book. I am eternally grateful to high school for giving me the opportunity of reading this absolute and utter masterpiece.

The Master and Margarita is a universe of marvel, combining in an absolutely enticing way the mundane and the magical.
One of the most amazing things about this book is that it can be read on so many levels, it’s mind blowing. On the upper level there is the plot as it is, and quite frankly I find it both interesting and absolutely hilarious. There is also the social satire: here I have to admit this is maybe the only book in my life, in which I’ve cherished satire of any kind. Irony is something that I both like and use often, but satire I find sort of pathetic. Most of the time. I may not have lived in Soviet times but I have seen the aftermath of it in my country as much as in a couple of ex-Soviet republics, so I can agree with the things that Bulgakov mentions, openly or open-to-interpretation. There is also the very deep and deeply philosophical level of this book, the rendition of good and bad and right and wrong in the face of so many positive, negative, positively negative and negatively positive characters. Which points out to the size of the fight in each and every one of us.

The Master
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The first time I read this book I had mixed but mostly positive feelings toward both the Master and Margarita. Reading again I could not find it in me to feel sympathetic to the character anymore. The way he simply gives up and saves himself the pain of going on by simply refusing to do so and staying safe in the asylum made me very repulsed. Maybe in my earlier years I was an escapist also, but it seems to me that his behavior is quite undeserving.
But also, I can’t help but feel that Bulgakov wrote the Master mainly for himself. Knowing this and that about his life, I can’t not think that the Master, in many ways, is Bulgakov himself and his endless desperation to not have his works published. As far as this swan song goes, Bulgakov possibly outdid himself.

Margarita
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Much the same as it happened with the Master, Margarita fell into my area of dislike. Only now, a couple of years older and MAYBE a couple of years wiser, I realized that she is selfish and spoiled beyond salvation. She insists that her husband always treated her with nothing but respect, was always good to her, that her life was great and on and on, and yet she is not happy, far from it, she is absolutely miserable. What had me in true disgust with Margarita was her conversation with Azazello in Chapter №19. She has lost her loved one, her reason to live… but hey, she is bored, she probably should find another one to fill her bed. And just as Azazello invites her to Apartment №50, she is unquestionably ready to sleep with Woland if it is asked of her. Why not?

Woland and his entourage
"Defendor" Screening - TIFF 2009

(I know that I’m breaking the rules here. It’s customary, if not mandatory, that the Devil in pop culture is someone like Rutger Hauer, preferably in his sixties at least, surely with white hair.
But from the first and last good description of Woland that we get, I think that Woody could be fantastic. When Margarita meets Woland she describes him as balding and a bit strange faced, but not old and wrinkled to his bones.)

Now to my favourite part of this book. The “bad” guys. I threw some quotation marks there because I’m not really convinced that they are bad. Not by far. I actually think that everything that Woland and his entourage did was sort of justice. In my eyes Woland does not represent evil. On the contrary, he is the instrument of justice in the shadows, and he is also the instrument of the author while wreaking vengeance on the things and people and beliefs that he dislikes.

Through humor and sarcasm Woland along with his underlings manages to disrupt an entire nation, but one that is essentially already messed up. In such a fashion he truly rights many wrongs. Completely unforgettable for me is this quote, which both proves my point and shows the nature of “evil” in the face of Woland. He is therefore not bad, just the lack of good, as shadow is the lack of light.

“But would you kindly ponder this question: What would your good do if evil didn’t exist, and what would the earth look like if all the shadows disappeared? After all, shadows are cast by things and people. Here is the shadow of my sword. But shadows also come from trees and living beings.
Do you want to strip the earth of all trees and living things just because
of your fantasy of enjoying naked light? You’re stupid.”

I can proudly say that Fagotto and Behemoth were my favourites in the entire book. The most humorous by far and also interesting in the sense that their origin and history is drawn from many other books and stories and also from history and religion.

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But the one that I found the most terrifying was Hella, after the scene in Rimsky’s office.

The Murder of Judas

Among the trillion of things that impressed me was the chapter in which Pontius Pilate and Aphranius are discussing the aftermath of Judas’ murder. Never have I read such an ingenious portrayal of manipulation and the altering of truth and reality. Bulgakov manages in an astonishing way to describe as inconspicuously as possible the way hidden powers work.

The Mad, My Dear…

My other favourite aspect of this novel is the way nothing is left unresolved and every story is put to a proper ending, or should I say a proper punishment. I was delighted while reading how one by one the presumed mad were filling the asylum and even more so while following the police investigation. One of the most beautiful sides of Bulgakov’s writing for me is the way that he doesn’t force readers to guess what happened to this or that person, but tells the story not only fully and in masterful detail, but also in such a fashion that if doesn’t feel forced as a biography but interesting and intriguing.

Also, it is important for me to mention that another one of my favourite things about this book was the depth of the author’s knowledge about history, religion, languages, philosophy, literature, music and so on. It is always a true delight to stumble upon a book full of information, especially to such a degree.

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