The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov, was written between 1928-1940 and yet was not published until 1967, due to the subjects and themes that it explores. It’s set mainly in Moscow and it follows the visit of the devil himself in the atheistic Soviet Union.
I got to read a translation from the original manuscript, which means that I will never truly experience the full intensity of the language that Bulgakov intended, yet this translated version feels like an absolute work of art in and of itself.
The book is set during two separate settings: the first being 1930s Moscow which follows the visit from Satan, and the second being Jerusalem which follows the story of Pontius Pilate nearly 2000 years earlier.
The Master and Margarita is essentially a satire of 1930s Stalinist Moscow as well as the Massolit and the ‘new rich’ and their fascination and obsession with vanity and greed that is externalized through Satan’s endeavors in Part One. Several conditions of the time, such as the opposition to foreign currency and foreigners in general, are dealt with throughout the book and are recurring themes that are embodied in a variety of ways through the different characters that are introduced.
Bulgakov allows for many different interpretations of the themes, and subjects in this book, such as the idea of religion and the existence of a spiritual world. A concept that is heavily incorporated throughout is the idea that Satan and Jesus Christ are constantly present inside a human being, i.e. we have both light and darkness that coexist inside of us. The opening scene by Patriarch’s Pond highlights this as the first characters that we’re introduced to, Mikhail and Ivan, are contemplating about writing an atheistic poem about Jesus Christ for their journal before being joined by a foreigner who debates their discussion by considering as to whether an omniscient being exists, that is in control of man and his fate.
One of the most beautiful aspects of Bulgakov’s writing is his ability to construct so many separate storylines and then seamlessly interweave them together in ways that make this book and the reader’s investment in it completely rewarding. I can’t lie, the names are quite confusing to follow as they are all similar, but after a while your mind slips into the pace of the writing and every part of the story falls into place. ‘The Master’ and ‘Margarita’ themselves, are characters introduced quite later on, yet their plot is one of the most intricately written parts that provides the novel an almost psychedelic twist.
If you have ever been to Moscow (or aspire to), you may take great pleasure in reading about the different places that the characters visit, such as the Kremlin and Arbat. After finishing the book I have a slight obsession with visiting Bulgakov’s flat (which is around the corner from Patriach’s Pond – the place where the first scene is set) and get a chance to walk around the area that inspired the inception for such an engaging and downright bizarre journey. It’s a fascinating and unique experience that I can’t recommend enough to any lovers of prose who might be looking for something different and refreshing.
Language/Style: 10 points
Plot: 9 points
Story: 9 points
Characters: 8 points
Giving this book a total of 36 points out of 40.
Favourite Part: I’m sorry, but in order to be in control, you have to have a definite plan for at least a reasonable period of time. So how, may I ask, can man be in control if he can’t even draw up a plan for a ridiculously short period of time, say, a thousand years, and is, moreover, unable to ensure his own safety for even the next day?