The devil pays a visit to Moscow in the 1930s accompanied by a strange assortment of companions, spreading confusion and panic through the city. MeanwThe devil pays a visit to Moscow in the 1930s accompanied by a strange assortment of companions, spreading confusion and panic through the city. Meanwhile, a struggling writer, known only as "the Master" has given up on a novel about Pontius Pilate; his lover Margarita proves she is willing to sell her soul to the devil to save her beloved and his manuscript.
This is a very strange book. The author seems to go back and forth between focusing on several different concerns. One strand of the narrative focuses on the Devil and his companions who go around Moscow playing tricks on people and exposing their greed and stupidity. A second strand is the relationship between the Master and Margarita, who are not particularly virtuous people, though they are also not greedy or stupid - more importantly, their relationship is an almost idealized portrayal of True Love and its redemptive, all-conquering power. A third strand deals with the depiction of Pontius Pilate and Yeshua (the historical Jesus), presented through excerpts from the fictional Master's novel.
The first strand left me cold, and it took up the most space in the narrative - who needs to hear about how greedy and stupid people are? We see it every day in the news and on the subway. It was depressing and almost nihilistic. The second strand was interesting and Faustian, but the characters and their relationship are portrayed more symbolically than descriptively - we don't really get to know them very well or get in-depth characterizations. However, the third strand of the novel, the chapters about Pontius Pilate and the historical Jesus, were amazing. These chapters were painstakingly drawn in beautiful, heart-rending detail, and I felt that Pilate and Jesus were far more real than any other characters in the book. Those parts were utterly engaging and extremely well-researched, too - you could tell.
What I wish Bulgakov had done was just to write the novel about Pontius Pilate that the character the Master did in the book. In any case, the book is worth reading for the Pontius Pilate parts alone....more
The author does a nice job of keeping up the magical, fairy-tale-like atmosphere throughout, making this a good book to read if you are looking to beThe author does a nice job of keeping up the magical, fairy-tale-like atmosphere throughout, making this a good book to read if you are looking to be transported and escape to a prettier, more mystical world outside of gritty history and reality. Some of the "twists" on the "classic tale" are also clever, and in many passages the writing was engaging and deftly woven. Granted, every now and then there'd come a spot where I felt the voice slipped into something too modern or out-of-place, or something in the diction didn't work so well, but on the whole, the writing was definitely better than I've met with in a lot of fantasy writing, and comparable with other upscale, aiming-to-be-literary, book-club-selection type books.
I think this could be a good book for Christian readers, because without being overt or preachy, there are a number of references to Christian-sounding ideas about the soul, God, heaven, and salvation. (Enough to make me think the author was coming from a Christian standpoint, yet not so much that an I as an unbeliever/humanist reader felt overly excluded by it.) My more conservative (e.g. LDS/Mormon) reader friends might like to know in advance that there is some out-of-wedlock sex in the book, but not too graphic as these things go (no tumescent manhoods or anything like that!).
I definitely think the story will tend to appeal more to female readers. From a feminist standpoint, well, there are some nice female friendships and bonding, and some attempt to show strongish female characters, but there was also more chick-lit-style boy-craziness than I expected. The romances are not super nuanced or profound, and the male characters are all pretty two-dimensional.
Still, on the whole, a nice, light, quick read, and some interesting, smart variations on the ever-popular mermaid theme....more