The devil pays a visit to Moscow in the 1930s accompanied by a strange assortment of companions, spreading confusion and panic through the city. Meanw...moreThe 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.(less)