Master and Margarita: Review

I haven’t had the best of luck with Russian novels. Or Russian movies (Solaris is just very difficult for me to endure, despite also enjoying it). I loved Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment, though it also took me a few years to trudge through it. There is just something about Russian writing or, perhaps more accurately, translations of Russian writing that just  bog me down. It makes me feel like I am reading Hawthorne. I know it’s great, I enjoy it, but I also feel like I am trying to walk through mud that pulls at each attempted step.

Bulgakov’s Master and Margarita is remarkably free of this. It moves with an ease that belies its translation. Without further research, I wonder if this isn’t a possible reflection of a bit of influence by Western literature or by Western life in general than other Russian writers that I have read. A quick look at Bulgakov’s history shows that he served in the miliary (medic, WWI), and that his family moved to France when the Revolution hit. While this isn’t to suggest that other Russian/Soviet writers weren’t “worldly” in views and thought, it appears that Bulgakov had a significant amount of first hand knowledge along with an impressive education.

The novel itself is a clear satire of the burgeoning Soviet society. In a text with constant references to MASOLIT and with a near omnipresent government force constantly attempting to nip at the heels of Woland (Satan) and his compatriot’s heels, it continually invoked Orwell’s masterpiece, 1984.

The only trouble the novel runs into is what nearly any novel dealing with Satan falls into and that’s simply not being impressive enough with many of Satan’s hijinks. Though, this could also be part of Bulgakov’s plan. To the reader, the outcome of the show Woland, Fagot and Behemoth put on seems pretty clear, which makes the blind following of the audience all the more stark.

What is most interesting about Master and Margarita is that the classic portrayal of the Devil is absent. Rather than the tempter into sin and damnnation of the Mephistopheles of Marlow’s Faustus, Bulgakov’s Woland seems more interested in exposing the decadence and faults of people and their society rather than taking advantage of them. The whole thing seems to be more of a grand experiment for him than anything.

All in all, a wonderful, and highly recommended, read.

Amazon Price: $10.19 (but, as always, you can get it far more affordably used)

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2 Responses to “Master and Margarita: Review”

  1. shannie Says:

    i agree about the muddiness of russian translations. having read M&M in three translations and the russian, i really think the translators of the penguin edition (pevear and volokhonsky) are magicians themselves. no one else comes close to capturing the vivid colour of russian the way those two do. it definitely makes the story that much more fun !

  2. uckstudents Says:

    I think Maser and Margarita is a thing by itself, personally. The complete intellectual freedom of it cant come from anything as arbitrary as western influence. I recently reviewed it on my blog, and all the time I was mentally trying to compare it to the other russian writers I know of. In the end I concluded it was rabbit out of a hat, and god thank the magician who pulled it out.

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