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Michail Bulgakov, Master and Margarita

May 24th, 2013 · No Comments

Michail Bulgakov
Master and Margarita
Moscow 1973
Verlag Volk und Welt, Berlin 1979
reviewed by Gary Levinson

When the great Russian authors of the 19th and 20th century are listed, one typically finds Pushkin, Gogol, Chehkov, Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky. This short list is missing one important name: Mikhail Bulgakov.

Mikhail Bulgakov was a Soviet author, born 1891, whose literary works spanned a period of 20 years, from 1920 up until his death in 1940. After falling out of favor with the Soviet literary clique, much of his work remained unpublished until after his death. This lack of recognition brought him much unhappiness, and had a deleterious effect on his health.

Bulgakov’s masterpiece, Master and Margarita, takes us on a literary journey through the bureaucratic Soviet society of the 1920s. In contrast to living with it, reading about this bureaucracy, parodied in Bulgakov’s satirical and witty way, brings, at times, a light-hearted chuckle out of the reader.

Master and Margarita is an adventure through three different worlds: the world of the Moscow literary scene in the 1920s, a literally incredible Faustian fantasy, and a trip back to the time of the Jesus – Pilatus story.

It is Bulgakov’s skill and imagination in intertwining these 3 stories, that makes Master and Margarita the wonder-work that it is.

One suspects at times that the novel is autobiographical. Written over a span of time from 1928 to 1940, due to the censure in the Soviet Union, it exists in several different forms, the final, ostensibly complete version was not released until 1973.

Bulgakov was an adroit word-smith, and the depth of his fantasy is only matched by his rich and thorough description of the fantastic.

Master and Margarita should be read simply for the very cerebral pleasure that his way with words brings; as at the same time it expands the boundaries of our thought.

reviewed by Gary Levinson