David's Reviews > The Master and Margarita

The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov
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's review
Jan 06, 08

bookshelves: read-in-2007, 5q, unexpectedly-terrific
Read in December, 2007

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.
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David Abigail:

The version I read was a translation by Diana Burgin and Katherine Tiernan O' Connor. Annotations and an afterword by Ellendea Proffer are based on 'two main texts' of the novel, one published in 1973 and one in 1989.

As Bulgakov was still revising the manuscript when he died in 1940, so there is not a single definitive version, an issue that any translator would have to deal with.

My copy of the book is a Vintage paperback, published in 1996. A hardback version was published (and copyrighted) in 1995.

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