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84 of 85 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "Cowardice is the most terrible of vices"
Take these as essential ingredients: Satan, Jesus, Stalin, Pontius Pilate and Caesar's Empire, assorted literary critics, a great Artist and the woman who loves him, life in 1930s Moscow, a poet on the bitter road to truth, and various demonic henchmen including a big black cat. They add up to one of the greatest novels of the 20th Century, and one of the handful of most...
Published on February 17, 2002 by Dan Keener

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16 of 16 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars there is a better translation
The novel is a masterpiece, even though it is unfinished and unresolved. It is truly one of the great novels of the 20th century. I am saddened that the Mirra Ginsberg translation seems to have been usurped by this lifeless and leaden, Pevear/Volokhonsky translation. I am afraid that this inferior version has become the default and I don't understand why... perhaps simply...
Published on October 12, 2010 by jentje


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84 of 85 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "Cowardice is the most terrible of vices", February 17, 2002
By 
Dan Keener "dkeener13" (Denver, CO United States) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: The Master and Margarita (Penguin Classics) (Paperback)
Take these as essential ingredients: Satan, Jesus, Stalin, Pontius Pilate and Caesar's Empire, assorted literary critics, a great Artist and the woman who loves him, life in 1930s Moscow, a poet on the bitter road to truth, and various demonic henchmen including a big black cat. They add up to one of the greatest novels of the 20th Century, and one of the handful of most moving books I've ever encountered.
The fundamental purpose of Bulgakov's magnum opus is to hold up the harsh light of truth to the sins and hypocrisies of Stalinist Russia. There are three storylines here: one of them concerns the misadventures of Satan's retinue as they wreak havoc on Muscovite literary society, and presents some of the most penetrating satirical writing you'll ever come across; the second storyline centers around the fifth procurator of Judea, the equestrian Pontius Pilate, and his fateful encounter with Jesus leading to the latter's crucifixion; the final story presents the fates of a great writer (the master), and his lover (Margarita). Bulgakov brings the three stories together in a demonstration of narrative genius, to bury the oppressive fallacy of Soviet society and ideals beneath the combined forces of good and evil, of love, of freedom, and of magic and mysticism.
One brief note about available translations: after sampling most of the available English translations, I am firmly convinced that the Pevear/Volkhonsky version is far and away the best. The notes are excellent, and the introduction by Richard Pevear gives invaluable insight into the history of the novel and its ideas. But most of all, they give the narrative much greater vividness and depth, especially in the wonderfully lyrical Pilate chapters. This translation of Bulgakov's most remarkable novel is enthusiastically recommended!
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48 of 50 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Focus on the Translators, April 25, 2005
By 
This review is from: The Master and Margarita (Penguin Classics) (Paperback)
Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky are very special translators of this highly complex work. Before you buy any other edition, check out the footnotes here which help to explain the more arcane elements of '30's Soviet culture and the context for much of the parallel story based on the Gospels. I read the first two pages of every edition in print and this had the best narrative flow and a richer texture. But, what else would you expect from the PEN translation award winners for "The Brothers Karamozov"?
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25 of 26 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Master and Margarita, March 24, 2006
By 
D. Marcovitz (Philadelphia, PA) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: The Master and Margarita (Penguin Classics) (Paperback)
This translation of Bulgakov's classic is unbeatable, and its endnotes are very helpful. In terms of accuracy and faithfulness to the original Russian text, Pevear and Volokhonsky's work here is unmatched, and it puts the Glenny translation to shame. With that said, I would recommend this edition particularly to those interested in understanding the novel's remarkable Soviet context. The Glenny translation will leave the average reader blind to much of Bulgakov's satire, but it offers perhaps a smoother overall read, often because of the liberties that Glenny takes in his translation.
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16 of 16 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars there is a better translation, October 12, 2010
The novel is a masterpiece, even though it is unfinished and unresolved. It is truly one of the great novels of the 20th century. I am saddened that the Mirra Ginsberg translation seems to have been usurped by this lifeless and leaden, Pevear/Volokhonsky translation. I am afraid that this inferior version has become the default and I don't understand why... perhaps simply due to marketing opportunities. I am curious to hear what other admirers of Bulgakov feel about this. This being said, it is still a great novel and I'm sure it will be enjoyed in this translation. But I implore you, do yourself a favor and get hold of the Mirra Ginsberg translation.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "I implore you, at least believe devil exists.", July 31, 2004
Whether one believes or not: Satan disguises as a foreign magician, and along with his thrice-cursed assistants, penetrated a theater in Moscow with black magic and hypnotic tricks. The artiste, who has personally met Pontius Pilate, is believed to have hypnotized director of the theater and has then contrived to fling him out of Moscow. The whole of the city is occupied with impossible rumors and portion of truth that is embellished with the most luxuriant lies. One thing is for sure: the theater has had to be closed owing to the mysterious disappearance of its administration and all sorts of outrages which have taken place during the notorious séance of Professor Woland's black magic.

The Master and Margarita is about Woland a.k.a. the Devil who weaves himself out of the shadow of the "other world" and into Moscow. This fantastical, humorous and yet devastating satire of Soviet life consists of two interwoven parts - one set in contemporary Moscow and the other in ancient Jerusalem at the time of Pilate. The Pilate story mainly focuses on his decision in sentencing Jesus Christ to death and the purging of his soul owing to fear and cowardice. The Moscow story impressively brims with imaginary and frightful characters, most importantly of which is an anonymous master who writes a novel about Pilate (in fact Satan has read the story and re-tells it) but is accused by literary critics of possessing illegal literature. Closely interwined with the master is Margarita, a woman who deserts her wealthy husband for the master and whose book has so inexorably absorbed her. She is willing to pawn her soul to the Devil in order to rescue the master from delirium. After all the sorceries and wonders by which she flies on a broom and destroys the apartment of the man who has rejected the master's novel and so ruined his life, she knows precisely it is Satan she is visiting. But the meeting does not frighten her in the least for the hope that she will manage to regain happiness and peace makes her fearless.

While thousands of spectators, the whole staff of the theater and members of government commissions have seen this magician and almost everyone who encounters the eerie retinue is in an delirious state, it is no doubt that all these events begin with the gruesome death of Berlioz at the Patriarch's Ponds. The chairman of a Moscow literature organization has slipped off some sunflower oil spilled on a turnstile and tumbled under a tram-car, head severed, and the exact manner of whose death fortold by Woland at his encounter with Berlioz and Ivan Nikoaevich Homeless. Poor Ivan has tried to convince that Devil does not exist and under Berlioz's tutelage writes an anti-religious poem that negates Jesus' existence. Ironically it is this very non-existing one who dwells in the beheaded writer's apartment and to whom Margarita desposits her faith., and from whom seeks salvation and peace after she and the master have been robbed of everything in the normal reality of the world.

In The Master and Margarita, through its unusual range, picking up of tone, and sometimes a parodying voice, Bulgakov produces a novel that is a theatrical rendering of the terrors of 1930s. He meticulously weighs the question of cowardice, guilt, and conscience in considering the fate of his hero and through audacious portrayal of Christ, Satan and Pilate. The Pilate story, which is also the story written by the master, passes through a succession of narrators and converges to the Mosocw scene at the end, when the fates of Pilate, the master, and Margarita are simultaneously determined. Their fates reflect Bulgakov's own conviction that cowardice being the worst of human vices - for it is impossible not to believe that the indomitable Margarita has tried, at the expense of forfeiting her soul and salvation, to think up the best future for the master. As for Pilate, he persistently felt the scruple of his conscience since Jesus, whose life if not for his damnable cowardice he could have spared knowing the guilt of other prisoners is more considerably burdened. All that is left to the procurator are wicked pains, incomprehensible anguish, and the piercing feeling that he has lost something irretrievable and all his belated attempts to make up for Jesus' loss are nothing but some petty, worthless and despicable deeds.

The novel is meant to educate, and to guide one of a state of enlightment in which the demarcation of humanity into good and evil is no longer useful and the transcendence of the need for retribution is the goal. The characters eventually are brought to see beyond apparent identity to the real identity, and to understand that Woland and Jesus being the same message. On top of the philosophical depth in redemption and death, the novel bespeaks details from Bulgakov's own life and a more personal tone in the satire of Woland and the retinue versus the literary powers. The normality of Soviet life is imposed from the very beginning, at the expense of the poet Ivan Homeless, who remains throughout the book and appears at each pivotal turn of the novel, especially when parable merges with normal reality.

2004 (43) ©MY
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A theatre of the absurd, December 9, 2002
By 
James Ferguson (Vilnius, Lithuania) - See all my reviews
(VINE VOICE)   
This review is from: The Master and Margarita (Penguin Classics) (Paperback)
When finally published in 1967, "The Master and Margarita" made a huge impact on the young Russian generation. It came at the end of the "Russian Spring." The years of Stalinism had partially thawed, and the Soviet Union saw a period of relaxation of many of the austere measures that had been levied on its citizens. Bulgakov had written the book at the height of Stalinist repression. A devil mercilessly playing with the indoctrinated minds of the proletarians and intellectuals alike. One has to understand that Bulgakov was a deeply religious man. He used satire as a means of renouncing the god-less Soviet state. Bulgakov can be viewed in the same literary vein as Gogol and Dostoevsky. He also delighted in word plays, hidden meanings and multiple layers of storytelling, making this a book you can return to again and again.
There are two essential stories in this novel. The first is that of the Master and Margarita, a doomed pair of lovers who find themselves fatalistically intertwined with the devil and his henchman. The other is that of Christ and Pontius Pilate. Bulgakov moves effortlessly back and forth in time through the voice of the devil, Woland, who overhears two Russian literati discussing the veracity of the death and resurrection of Christ. The fun and games follow in rapid succession, as the devil turns Petersburg on its ear, confounding a sedated city with his miraculous tricks.
Pevear and Volokhonsky have done a fine translation. It is a bit too literal for my tastes. They didn't need to translate the names into English. Footnotes would have sufficed. But, then Bulgakov often employed blunt language. He was a playwright by profession, and in many ways this book is a theatre of the absurd.
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The Devil comes to Moscow, March 3, 2006
This review is from: The Master and Margarita (Penguin Classics) (Paperback)
I think it is safe to assume that the main attraction that this book now holds for people is not the satire of doctrinally correct literati leading lives of hypocritical privilege - and indeed how could that possibly have any application in the age of Pinter, Rushdie, et al?

No, it is the fascination of the devil in his most seductive guise - the `Old European' Devil that inspired Jagger ('If you meet me have some sympathy, have some courtesy and some taste') Bulgakov does him to perfection here and his coterie is unimproveable: chequered Koroviev with the cracked pince-nez, squat red-headed uber-gangster Azazello, the wanton and permanently nude demon-whore and (my personal favourite) the hind leg walking, caviar eating, eternally mischievous giant black cat Behemoth.

In fact, despite knowing that it was written in the Stalin era, it is surprising how much of the Old Europe appears to have survived in Bulgakov's Moscow - good restaurants, ladies wearing the latest fashions, theatre managers in evening dress - and despite the officially approved atheism spouted by the literati, when under stress, ordinary people still mutter prayers under their breath and cross themselves.

`Satan's Ball at midnight' is a stunning set piece and could stand up on it's own. Reading it, one hears in one's head those weird, sinister Russian waltzes composed by the likes of Khatchaturian, Prokofiev and Shostakovich.

My own, very personal, feeling about it is that Bulgakov himself got taken in by the old rogue at the end. If the Devil exists, then, despite whatever gentlemanly facade he may care to assume, he really does not give a damn about the welfare of any human being and he will not keep his promises - so read with care, and watch out for being seduced yourself!
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Satan as Soviet dissident..., March 24, 2010
By 
meeah (somewhere between my ears (i presume)) - See all my reviews
I came upon this book--The Master and Margarita--by one of those fortuitous accidents one morning before work that don't exactly change your life, like getting run down by a crosstown bus might, but change your life in the sense that I would have no doubt read another book entirely if I hadn't thought to stop on my walk in to work at a small, stuffy thrift store/pawn shop on the corner of 9th and something or other, maybe 44th. Anyway, sitting there, moldering away on a pressboard shelf among a lot of other forgotten, dog-eared paperbacks of bygone times was the edition of Bulgakov's classic--I say classic though I'd never heard of Bulgakov before--translated by Richard Pevear and his wife, whose new translations of Dostoyevsky I'd already enjoyed.

I figured it was worth the fifty cents the store was charging. So I bought it along with some little volume by PD Ouspensky about the possibly future psychology of man. Egads.

Anyway, "The Master and The Magician" is a fantastic read--the kind of novel you sort of expect from Russian writers: sprawling, philosophical, packed with characters of every description with names and nicknames you can hardly keep straight, comic, tragic, rollicking, digressive, transgressive--in short, something we don't see much in American literature outside of Melville's "Moby Dick."

It all starts with a conversation in a Russian park between an editor and a poet about the non-existence of the historical Jesus. Enter a strange character who claims to have actually been there when Pontius Pilate condemned Christ to be crucified. From that point on, all Hell breaks loose. Satan has come to the Soviet Union, literally, accompanied by his theatrical retinue, which includes a talking cat who walks about, in plain sight, on his hind legs. This bunch put on a magic show, purportedly to debunk and expose the falsity of magic, but in reality causing all kinds of mischief, completely disorganizing the harshly oppressive organization imposed by Stalinism on Russian society. People's heads fall off (and are then magically reattached), women become witches and fly naked on broom sticks over the city, cats shoot it out with secret police agents, cramped apartments open up into other dimensions....and so it goes, the illogic of the dream-world invades our waking one.

Stalin is Caesar, Pilate is the obedient Soviet functionary, Christ is a kind of holy fool, Judas is a snitch, the secret police are the same everywhere, in every time, and life on earth, which Satan, as the ultimate dissident, cannot, in the end, be controlled, not even by a Stalin.

This is a book that was written largely in secret by Bulgakov, that didn't become well-known until some twenty years after he croaked, a book that he probably would have been shot for writing if it had come to the attention of Stalin and his henchmen--a book, in another words, that was worth the writing and the reading because the author felt he had to write it, even under the shadow of death. I can't help but wonder in this context how many so-called "writers" today would write if such were the stakes of putting their pens to the paper? Can you imagine John Grisham or James Patterson writing what they write if they were risking their lives to write it? If Dan Brown faced being burned at the stake instead of earning gazillions of dollars do you figure he'd write "The Lost Symbol"? Somehow I think not.

Well, there's one good thing you can say about Stalin, and tyrants in general. At least he inspired great literature.
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11 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars This work has no need for my review., January 28, 2006
By 
Antonio Gonzalez (Amarillo, TX U.S. A.) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: The Master and Margarita (Penguin Classics) (Paperback)
"The Master and Margarita" is one of the worlds greatest books and certatinly one of the 20th.century's masterpieces. It has been reviewed by the greatest scholars. I spent a number of years learning Russian and over a half year reading the book in the original. The beauty and clarity of the original language and the telling of the story in Russian was well worth my effort. This is one of these novels where every chapter can stand alone as a complete beautiful story.. It's a work of art made of many works of art bound in one. Any loss because of translatiion is inevitable, however, Russian experts agree that Pevear and Volokonsky's translation is probably most acurate and loyal. It makes a fine gift and I hope to someday find a leather bound high quality printing edition.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A bloody odd yet fascinating book, July 30, 2005
By 
Skippy McGee (Providence, RI United States) - See all my reviews
This review is from: The Master and Margarita (Penguin Classics) (Paperback)
I read this book in a matter of a week, a record for me with a Russian novel. It is easier to swallow than Dostoevsky, that is for sure. The book starts out with a literary magazine editor (Berlioz) and a poet (Ivan Homeless) discussing their disbelief of God in park. The devil swings by, posing as a foreigner--a proffesor of black magic--and predicts that Berlioz will be beheaded by a woman before a meeting he is due to have later with other literary persons. This prediction becomes true and the devil and his comrades, which includes a man with a pince-nez and a checkered suit, a witch with a grotesque scar on her neck, a talking cat, and a demonesque red haired man then wreak havoc on the bureaucratic literary world of Moscow.

I think one of most interesting aspects of the book is the devil, or Woland. I do not see his character as necessarily evil. Certainly, he is the devil, but he is a very important aspect of the world. There is even a point where it seems that the devil is working for Jesus. There is black and white and also grey, and the devil, at some point, seems to cover all of these areas.

And then there is, of course, the master. The writer of the unpublished book about the Pontius Pilate, the man who sentenced Jesus to death. The master is tormented because his work was roundly rejected by the club house that was literary Moscow, and is seemed that not even Margarita's deep love for his could save him. The literary and governmental harassment the master endures because of a work about guilt and forgiveness probably mirror the situation Bulgakov found himself in at the time the book was written.

It is a strong work that had me glued. The translation is magnificent as well, though I always love a Pevear/Volokhonsky translation. Their edition of The Brothers Karamozov is magnificent. Finally, there were parts of this book that were so biting and funny. I highly recommend it.
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The Master and Margarita (Penguin Classics)
The Master and Margarita (Penguin Classics) by Mikhail Afanasievich Bulgakov (Paperback - Dec. 2001)
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