Catie's Reviews > The Master and Margarita

The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov
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Sep 14, 12

bookshelves: classics, read-in-2012
Recommended to Catie by: Maja, Nataliya, Tatiana
Read from September 01 to 14, 2012

I have a feeling this would be five stars if I had the ability to read it in the original Russian.
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Reading Progress

09/04/2012 page 81
21.0% 2 comments
09/05/2012 page 137
38.0% 5 comments
09/12/2012 page 331
91.0% 3 comments
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Comments (showing 1-17 of 17) (17 new)

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message 1: by Jim (new) - rated it 5 stars

Jim Really glad to see you are reading this with the group, Catie!

I will be commenting on the threads there, but would also be happy to read along with you, or just discuss with you as we read. I am around 55 pages in, but with no fixed pace in mind. Nataliya could school us both if she has any time for it. She is the ranking expert in the group.

I also want to touch base and say how much I have missed our book chats during this tough time! I am not through with the stresses by any means, but some of the heavy lifting is done and I am planning to be more involved here, at least for the next few weeks. Knock on wood.

It's a great group! I hope you are enjoying your work, and getting back into the school routine this week must be a nice change.:)


Catie Great to see you here, Jim! I am almost finished with chapter two, which made me feel a lot more somber and angry than chapter one. It made me think about how we as a people tend to ignore what's important and just willingly go through our lives with blinders on. But it also made me think about how things get exaggerated and mythologized and how much we lose from that - like the humanity of our heroes, for example. I have no idea if what I'm thinking has anything to do with the story or not, hahaha. It probably doesn't help that I wasn't really raised with any sort of Christian religion so I'm not as educated as some on the history/background.

So yeah, I'm just getting into it and I don't feel like I have everything sorted out yet. The "professor" (who I assume is the devil) was really making me laugh in chapter one. I really love the dark humor/gut-punch meaningfulness combo. I can already tell that I'll probably love this book (as if all the endorsements from my friends weren't enough).

I'm glad to hear that you'll be around for the next few weeks! Hooray! The girls start school tomorrow, and I'm very excited. I'm going to be working slightly longer hours at work now, which will be good.


message 3: by Jim (new) - rated it 5 stars

Jim Thanks so much, Catie! Great to be talking with you again, and glad to hear that you are doing well.

For starters, I will add a few points to your comments, and we can just discuss now and then as we go. Minimal spoilers if I don't slip up.

The first two chapters are really the setup for what follows. You will be a little disoriented until some of the details come in later. You are right about the professor (Woland), and I think you will love his combination of dark humor and portent - 'gut-punch meaningfulness' is a great phrase for it! What you see in chapter 1 is that the pot gets stirred a little by Woland, and things start to happen. The artistry of Bulgakov in those exchanges is really magical.

Chapter 2 is one that I loved, but I was raised in a Christian household so it probably hit me in a different way. Looking (essentially) through Pilate's perspective as he tries to make sense of this pathetic creature (Yeshua), and then notices that things start happening when Yeshua speaks, is just riveting for me. As I commented on the thread, Bulgakov was much more fascinated by Jesus than by the religion created in his name (true for me too), and I think he used chapter 2 to really bear down on the mystical but hard reality of that crucial meeting.

I think you will love it! I am completely mesmerized in my second reading, even more than I was in the first. I will be reading slowly for the most part to catch the details, but I am flexible and would love to chat with you as we go.

Hooray for school starting! Our boys start on Wednesday, so that will be a nice change for me.


Catie Oh yes, I can see that - that he was more interested in the life of Jesus than in the Christian religion. It feels like he's showing us how much was lost/revised/exaggerated/changed between the true story (as told by the devil, haha) and the religious doctrine. It's something we do with most of our hero stories I think, but we lose so much. We make our heroes into something inhuman and above ourselves. I guess that's a sort of censoring - of the hero's humanity.

This is only sort of related, but I've been thinking about this a lot lately, ever since finishing Embassytown. I feel like we're ultimately incapable of faithfully and objectively transcribing our own experiences. There's always a slant or a bias or a selective edit from the storyteller. We can try as hard as we can to describe our own experiences with words, but words are so severely limited and they're all we have.

Random! Haha, thanks for listening Jim. Hope your boys have a great first day!


message 5: by Jim (new) - rated it 5 stars

Jim Catie wrote: "Oh yes, I can see that - that he was more interested in the life of Jesus than in the Christian religion. It feels like he's showing us how much was lost/revised/exaggerated/changed between the true story (as told by the devil, haha) and the religious doctrine..."

Yes, I think that is exactly what he was doing! But there will be more to it later, as you will see when the story unfolds.

"It's something we do with most of our hero stories I think, but we lose so much. We make our heroes into something inhuman and above ourselves. I guess that's a sort of censoring - of the hero's humanity."

Agreed. If they were merely human, we would have a lot of trouble thinking of them as heroes.

In this case, the important irony is that the 'orthodox' version in Moscow was the one given by Berlioz, that Jesus never existed at all. Woland is setting him straight.

"This is only sort of related, but I've been thinking about this a lot lately, ever since finishing Embassytown. I feel like we're ultimately incapable of faithfully and objectively transcribing our own experiences. There's always a slant or a bias or a selective edit from the storyteller. We can try as hard as we can to describe our own experiences with words, but words are so severely limited and they're all we have."

I agree completely with your thinking (and I need to read Embassytown!). Words are imperfect messengers at best when it comes to facts. Sometimes music or movies can say much more, but even then you try to put the message into words.

But I do think that those who try hard and have training can avoid a lot of the biases that pass for routine in everyday usage. Scientific training is good for that - but it certainly doesn't eliminate the problem! On the flip side, I would say that words create their own reality, and can change our thought processes as we incorporate their meaning.

And then there is propaganda - but that is another story for another time. Great chatting with you again, Catie, and thanks!


Nataliya Yes, from the bits I saw in TM&M group, it seems that quite a bit of the magic of the original writing was sadly lost in translation. But hey - it's never too late to learn Russian ;)


Catie It's so sad to me that there are hundreds of literary masterpieces that I won't ever get to truly experience because of my language-limitations. It would be amazing to learn Russian. A completely different alphabet! It's pretty intimidating.


message 8: by Jim (new) - rated it 5 stars

Jim Catie wrote: "It's so sad to me that there are hundreds of literary masterpieces that I won't ever get to truly experience because of my language-limitations. It would be amazing to learn Russian. A completely different alphabet! It's pretty intimidating.."

I took 4 semesters of Russian in college, and the first week or two we just worked on learning the alphabet (recognizing, reading and writing). It was intimidating, but very interesting too. In the last semester we were attempting to read some original works in Russian. (Pikovaya Dama by Pushkin was the one I can remember). It was tough!

But I definitely came away from that experience with an appreciation of the beauty of the language, and the passionate tradition for arts and literature among the Russian people. I think those perspectives helped me a lot with TM&M, especially on the second reading.


Nataliya Catie, actually, the completely different alphabet is probably the easiest part about learning Russian! It's the conjugation of every part of speech where the main difficulty would lie, I'd imagine.

Wow, Jim, I had no idea you learned Russian in the past. Did you retain some of the knowledge of the language from your college days?


message 10: by Jim (new) - rated it 5 stars

Jim Nataliya wrote: "Yes, from the bits I saw in TM&M group, it seems that quite a bit of the magic of the original writing was sadly lost in translation. But hey - it's never too late to learn Russian ;)"

I should get an e-reader version of the original Russian and try Google Translate on some of the passages. That might be as close as I ever get to the original.

With that said, I got so much more out of this second reading of the book! Especially with the group discussion and the background materials that Kris and others linked, I saw a huge amount of magic and detail in the writing that I did not appreciate on the first pass. I loved it the first time, but was completely blown away this time around. I can only imagine the wonder of it all in the original Russian.

Catie, if you have time in a year or two to come back to it, I think you might find it a much richer reading experience as I did. If not, at least you got a taste of the treasures that lie waiting in this book.:)


message 11: by Jim (new) - rated it 5 stars

Jim Nataliya wrote: "Wow, Jim, I had no idea you learned Russian in the past. Did you retain some of the knowledge of the language from your college days?..."

Sadly, I would have to say I retained very little of the vocabulary. I can still read the words, and remember some of the roots, so I can piece together bits here and there. But I think my residual knowledge has some value when I read the Russian masters, and I did learn a lot about the culture and have learned a lot more since those days.


Nataliya Jim, it's so great that you have the knowledge of the Russian culture - it's invaluable when reading any Russian works, from classics to the modern books. I've noticed the necessity for understanding Russian culture even when reading modern urban fantasy by Russians - like "Night Watch", for instance, let alone Bulgakov. You have a huge advantage over most American readers in this case :)

Jim wrote: "I should get an e-reader version of the original Russian and try Google Translate on some of the passages. That might be as close as I ever get to the original."

We tried something of this sort in TM&M group, and ended up having some fun with it. As for the electronic version of the text - there are quite a few electronic versions of this book floating along on the internet - like this one here: http://www.fenzin.org/online/13773/1

By the way, have you guys seen the 10-part TV series based on this book? It's rather good.


message 13: by Jim (new) - rated it 5 stars

Jim Nataliya wrote: "Jim, it's so great that you have the knowledge of the Russian culture - it's invaluable when reading any Russian works, from classics to the modern books. I've noticed the necessity for understanding Russian culture even when reading modern urban fantasy by Russians - like "Night Watch", for instance, let alone Bulgakov. You have a huge advantage over most American readers in this case :)"

Thanks, Nataliya!

"As for the electronic version of the text - there are quite a few electronic versions of this book floating along on the internet - like this one here: http://www.fenzin.org/online/13773/1"

Thanks for this link! I can definitely try my sampling idea with it. My idea is similar to what was done on the TM&M group, but I would be looking at the translation and the original to see what I could infer about the original phrasing. Just an experiment...

"By the way, have you guys seen the 10-part TV series based on this book? It's rather good.
..."


I would love to see it! Do you have a link for an online version, or for commercial DVD's?


Nataliya Jim wrote: "I would love to see it! Do you have a link for an online version, or for commercial DVD's? "

I have a link to that show on youtube (and I do plan on buying the DVD of it since I quite enjoy it; it has some amazing actors). Here it is: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1t6W9h...


Catie Wow, it looks like I missed a great conversation here! I definitely plan to re-read TMaM again in the future. I just feel like there was so much and I barely skimmed the surface of it. The group and the resources I found through the group were a great help though. I should watch that series! It might actually help.


message 16: by Jim (new) - rated it 5 stars

Jim Nataliya wrote: "I have a link to that show on youtube (and I do plan on buying the DVD of it since I quite enjoy it; it has some amazing actors). Here it is: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1t6W9h..."

Thanks for the link, Nataliya! I missed your response last night, but I am very excited to check out the show! I might buy the DVD too...


message 17: by Jim (new) - rated it 5 stars

Jim Catie wrote: "Wow, it looks like I missed a great conversation here! I definitely plan to re-read TMaM again in the future. I just feel like there was so much and I barely skimmed the surface of it. The group..."

Thanks, Catie, and I am glad you enjoyed the experience as much as you did. After my second reading, I can definitely see the depth and the intricate layering of this book. It really is a masterpiece - right up there with the most amazing books I have ever read.


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