Upgraded to 5 stars, January 6th 2008 - this was one of my top 5 books read in 2007.
Written in the 1930's, not published until the late 1960's, a quarter-century after the author's death, this is an amazing book. Any short description I provide is necessarily reductive - it's a reworking of the Faust legend, with an embedded exploration of the story of Pontius Pilate, in which the devil and his retinue visit Stalinist Moscow. From this premise, the author produces a scathing satire of the politics of his time (fully aware that the book would not, and could not, be published during his lifetime), as well as an extremely thought-provoking discussion of the role of the artist, and the necessity of mercy and forgiveness.
What I really liked about the book is the way he wraps some fairly deep themes into a hilarious story - we are given some hugely enjoyable tall tales by a mischievous, extremely funny narrator. The style is reminiscent of Flann O' Brien at his most coruscating; despite broad swipes at some fairly obvious targets, the overall story is uplifting, as the reader finally comes to the realization that Woland (the Satan-figure) is actually working on the same side as the Jesus-figure.
It's obvious why, upon its delayed publication, this book immediately achieved the status of a classic of modern Russian literature. A completely unexpected delight - I highly recommend this book.