The Master and Margarita – Mikhail Bulgakov

This was a strange book with two distinct parts/”books”.

The first part kind of baffles me, because the master and Margarita are barely mentioned at all. Indeed, the first half of the book does not concern them, but follows the series of events after the particularly gruesome death of a writer named Berlioz – decapitated by a tram (Yep.). His colleague Bezdomny witnesses the event, and how it is predicted by an odd foreigner named Woland who speaks to them briefly before it happens.

This event sparks the beginning of many ludicrous happenings connected to the arts sphere in Russia. Woland and his sidekicks – a large talking cat and a creepy dude with a pince nez – pop up in many people’s lives. They make one man wake up in Yalta mysteriously, and they set another up to be arrested for holding wads of foreign currency. Woland presents an act at the theatre in which they behead a man (but then reattach it, and he’s still alive), shower fake money from the roof, and give the women in the audience free clothing, only to have it disappear later leaving them utterly naked on the streets.

The story is about the Devil (Woland) visiting Moscow.

The Master and Margarita come into it in the second half. We learn that they are lovers, that Margarita is in a passionless marriage and the Master wrote a book about Pontius Pilate, but destroyed it when it was rejected by publishers – and then landed himself in an insane asylum.

Margarita finds herself working directly for the Devil in exchange for information about her lost lover. She experiences a naked flight on a broomstick through Moscow at night, she hosts a ball for dead people, and eventually she is reunited with the Master. At the end, they are killed but their “souls” go off with Woland and his troupe so they can be together forever.

Like I said, it’s an odd tale.

There’s one excerpt that I really liked:

 ‘Love leaped up out at us like a murderer jumping out of a dark alley. It shocked us both – the shock of a stroke of lightning, the shock of a flick-knife.’

I thought that was a clever and apt way of describing love 🙂

I should also mention the interesting flashbacks to Biblical times, featuring a less than conventional account of Jesus’ trial before Pilate.

This book is an interesting, somewhat obscure read. Get ready for lots of Russian names (obvs).


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