Friday, 21 August 2015

Book Review | The Master and Margarita. Mikhail Bulgakov

The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov
My rating ★★★★★

I was supposed to read Bulgakov's The Master and Margarita in 11th grade. However I could never remember the end of the book, so I just assumed I never finished it. This was often the case with books I had to read for school. We never had book discussions or assignments, where we could express our own opinions of the books. Teachers rarely encouraged us to speak outside of the critical analysis from the textbook. So reading for school was never fun. In fact, at some point I was deeply convinced that fiction was just not my thing. I sometimes feel sorry for all the books I could have read in my early teens if only someone had encouraged me to give fiction literature another chance.

The Master and Margarita tells a story of one day when Satan decides to visit Moscow. He calls himself  Woland and he is usually accompanied by a strange trio: Koroviev, cat named Behemoth, and Azazello. Woland's servants cause a lot of mischief and disturbance all around Moscow. For some reason, they mostly focus on the cultural elite, specifically the Union of Writers. It all starts when Woland encounters the union chairman Belrioz and a young poet Ivan Homeless. The latter two are discussing the poet's new poem, that is supposed to be a satirical antireligious piece about Jesus Christ. Woland joins the conversation and tells them, among other things, about the time when he visited Pontius Pilate's castle.

Berlioz and Ivan don't believe Woland and think that he is either a lunatic or a foreign spy. Woland continues their conversation and predicts the untimely death of Berlioz. His prediction comes true shortly after, thus unravelling a series of mystical and strange incidents. All the events seem to revolve around people who either knew or for whatever reason came into contact with Berlioz. All the characters are subtly linked to each other. And throughout the book are interwoven the memories of the day, when Pontius Pilate condemned to death a peaceful philosopher Yeshua Ha-Notsri.

Woland settles in Berlioz's former apartment, where he later holds his annual Ball. In the meantime, he entertains himself in all kinds of way. He orders his three servants to do a black magic show at a theatre. All sorts of people visit the 'wicked' apartment. People go missing. Even more so go insane or straightforward berserk.

Ivan Homeless is among the lucky ones to find himself in the safety of an asylum, where he meets a fellow lunatic, who claims to have no name or identity, and asks to be called The Master. He tells Ivan his tragic life story. The Master was working on a novel. But his masterpiece turned out to be out of place and time and brought him nothing but sorrows. That novel destroyed him and the woman, that he loved.

It is considered that Bulgakov described his own struggle with mental health in the character of The Master. There was a point in his life, when Bulgakov was so sick, that he was afraid to leave his house unaccompanied, he was scared to walk in the streets, and even resorted to the help of a hypnotist to cure himself of this illness.

Woland wants Margarita, who turns out to be The Master’s lover, to be the hostess of his Ball, and for that he later grants her one wish. I have to say, that the way everything resolved in the lives of The Master and Margarita, and how  they eventually found their peace and happiness, really made me think. I wasn’t expecting it to end the way it did, so maybe that’s why I could never remember the last chapters of the book.

It is a short, but exciting and emotional novel. Many of the allusions and mysticism are a way to reveal the cruelty and hardships people had to endure during Stalin’s regime.

Re-reading it years after I was actually supposed to have read it, I now have a completely different impression of this book. I remember how 16-year-old me was scared to keep it on my nightstand because the book was considered "wicked". But now I see it as an interesting story with many allusions, but most important of all, it is a story of true love. Love of a man and a woman, and love of a struggling artist for his magnum opus.

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