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Sunday, April 03, 2016

The Master and Margarita (1966) by Mikhail Bulgakov

Woland (the Devil) has a massive black cat called the Behemoth who can walk and talk like a human.
Book Review
The Master and Margarita (1966)
by Mikhail Bulgakov

  The Master and Margarita has one of those quintessential 20th century publication histories, written during the darkest parts of Stalinist rule in Russia between 1928 and 1940, finally published in 1966, and immediately hailed as a lost classic.  Amazingly, prior to publication almost nobody knew The Master and Margarita even existed, despite Bulgarov maintaining a popular and critical audience.  Today, The Master and Margarita is a universally acknowledged classic of Russian literature, with dozens of film, television, theatrical and operatic versions existing in almost every major language.

   The Master and Margarita tells the tale of the Devil arriving in Moscow during the post-revolutionary Soviet period.  Many have argued that Mick Jagger was directly inspired by the opening chapters when he penned the opening verse of Sympathy for the Devil, "Please allow me to introduce myself, I'm a man of wealth and taste.... Made damn sure that Pilate washed his hands, and sealed his fate."   The actual plot of The Master and Margarita switches between the Russian present and the events surrounding the crucifixion of Jesus, with the Devil (called Woland) insisting that he was present in Pilate's palace.

  The Master in the title is not Woland, but a Russian author who has coincidentally written a novel about Pilate's behavior during the crucifixion, a novel which as been barred from publication by the Soviet authorities.  Margarita starts off as The Master's lover, but she is then selected by Woland to serve as his consort at his Midnight Ball.   Before that, Woland arranges for the death of the head of the Moscow literary bureaucracy, and poses as a "black magician" hypnotizing a large audience of Muscovites and convincing them to parade around in the streets naked.


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