“The Master and Margarita” by Mikhail Bulgakov

MasterAndMargaritaAccording to Wikipedia, this novel was written between 1928 and 1940, but unpublished in book form until 1967. The story concerns a visit by the Devil to the fervently atheistic Soviet Union. Many critics consider it to be one of the best novels of the 20th century, as well as the foremost of Soviet satires.

Some of us read this for our “classics” group in April 2016, when five people turned out for the meeting. Those present had much fun discussing it, and though perplexed by some of the allegory and enigma, found enough in it to enjoy: even the talking cat, as big as a pig. Lost in a society of labyrinthine complexity, where definitions of madness expanded exponentially, characters were disorientated and confused; as were we readers, but it did make us laugh.

Two more of our group had started the book but given up. Hilary got through the first 50 pages and thought it was quite good and unusual, well written – in the way she might appreciate a short story. But then the rest of the book looked like more of the same and she couldn’t find the enthusiasm for it. Evan got further and sent these comments:

I was looking forward to this book – not least because my work colleague had said it was her favourite book – though she’s Lithuanian and read it in Russian, which may make a difference. I like the ideas and the basic story (what I read of it), but I found the style extremely irritating – a problem I’ve had with other Russian literature. This meant I simply didn’t want to pick it up every time I put it down. I finally gave up on page 113 where the name Nikanor Ivanovich appears (in full) 11 times in a single page. Don’t they have pronouns in Russian?

Overall, our opinions varied from not enjoying the book to really liking it, resulting in a wide range of scores from 3 to 8. The average score was 5.7, based on 5 readers.

Another viewpoint from Peter Boxall’s 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die:

The Master and the Margarita is a novel that pulsates with mischievous energy and invention. By turns a searing satire of Soviet life, a religious allegory and an untamed burlesque fantasy, it is a novel of laughter and terror, freedom and bondage, which blasts open ‘official truths’ with the force of a carnival out of control.


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