Tuesday, April 29, 2014

The Devil in Moscow

The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov
Reviewed by Diane K. M.
My rating: 2 out of 5 stars

What. The Hell. Was That? 

This Russian novel was so wacky and schizophrenic that it gave me a headache.

I had never heard of "The Master and Margarita" until a book club friend said it was one of her favorites. It comes weighted with a lot of praise -- it is considered one of the great Russian novels and has been listed as one of the best books of the 20th Century.

I read a lot of glowing, 5-star reviews of this book, but I just didn't connect with it as others have. I didn't even like the book until page 217, which was when Margarita finally showed up. The second half of the book is definitely better than the first half, which really plodded along in places.

But I'm getting ahead of myself, so let's back up. According to the introduction, Bulgakov was upset about how Christ was portrayed in Soviet anti-religious propaganda, so he wrote a satire about what would happen if Satan suddenly appeared in Moscow. The novel pokes fun at the greed and pettiness of people, and at the rigid social order in Russian life. 

While I did have a few giggles at the hijinks that ensue when the devil starts making mischief -- and there's a talking cat! -- there were also these frustrating flashbacks to Pontius Pilate in Jerusalem, which is what gave me a headache. And I'm getting another one just thinking about trying to summarize the rest of the story, so forgive me if I pop some aspirin and recommend anyone who is interested in this novel to read 
Kris' excellent review. She got way more out of this book than I did.

Bulgakov worked on the novel for more than a decade, but in several different versions because at one point he even burned the manuscript. (One of its most famous quotes is that "manuscripts don't burn.") 

While I know enough about Stalin's oppressive regime to appreciate the creative protest that Bulgakov was undertaking, I think I would rather read a biography about the author than to ever reread "Master and Margarita."

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