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Customer Review

294 of 301 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Hilarious, Terrifying, and Just Plain Brilliant, April 9, 2003
This review is from: The Master and Margarita (Everyman's Library (Cloth)) (Hardcover)
I've always been a fan of Russian novels, ever since I read my first Dostoevsky novel at the age of 10...(okay, it was a Classics Illustrated comic book version of Crime and Punishment!)but had never run across anything by Bulgakov until a few years ago. A Russian friend of mine really pressed me to read the book. I bought it, but it just stayed on the shelf until a few weeks ago. All I can say is, I didn't know what I was missing. Master and Margarita is a wickedly funny, sad, frightening, and ultimately haunting masterpiece of fiction.
Bulgakov was one of the first generation of Soviet writers who flourished in the 20s, during the short lived Soviet Experimental movement, and then suffered horribly after the stregnthening of Stalin's regime. Bugakov was primarily a man of the Theater, and something of a theatrical quality hangs on to this book. The chapters have an almost tableaux style construction. When the Stalinist purges began, Bulgakov was began work on Master and Margarita, pretty much to please himself. He knew that he would never live to see it published.
The novel itself is nearly impossible to describe. It consists of three separate plots. On the surface is the visit to Moscow, of the Devil in the guise of a professor named Woland, and his henchmen, two grotesque disfigured men, a naked woman and a cat who plays chess among other things. The group proceeds to essentially terrorize the city's intellectual community, mostly by exposing each character's inner hypocracy. The satire of communist society in this section is quite biting, and uproariously funny. Embedded in this story is a "novel within a novel" ...the story of Pontius Pilate and his encounter with the itinerant spiritual man, Yeshua. Finally, there is the story of the separated lovers, the Master and Margarita, who interweave between the other two stories. They live in the present day Moscow, but the Master ostensibly wrote the manuscript which told the story of Pontius Pilate.
This rich and complicated stew of a book works on so many different levels. At it's most obvious, it is a scathing attack on communism and the cultural elite's complicity with the evils of the system. It is also rather pitiless in it's exposure of the greed, corruption and mendacity of human nature. But Bulgakov is not a conventional moralist. The Devil as Woland is an evil figure...sometimes a terrifying figure, and yet he ends up as the instrument of the redemption of both the Master and Margarita. There is a deep spiritual viewpoint at work here...Early in the novel, Yeshua tells Pilate that, "all men are good", to Pilate's incredulity. In the context of the novel, Yeshua seems hopelessly naive, but by the end of the novel, you wonder if this may actually not be the author's central point. Even the devil is capable of some good here.
This book contains a whole world. Characters change in dizzying fasion and events go by with lightening speed. And yet, by the last pages there is a haunting beauty, an almost incandescent light that shines over the prose. Some of these final images stay etched in my brain even now, several weeks after finishing.
I highly recommend that anyone read this book. It may be one of the greatest novels of the 20th century. It certainly is the greatest Russian novel of the last 100 years!
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Showing 1-7 of 7 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Jun 17, 2008 1:17:59 PM PDT
James Brent says:
thanks- i can relate to your review & it even swayed me to buying the book (after having been somewhat discouraged by the "most helpful" critical review).

In reply to an earlier post on Jul 25, 2009 1:54:49 PM PDT
This is a superb review, Christopher! One of the best I've ever come across. I'm buying this book right away, based solely upon your enlightening and flowing comments.

I also gave ya an ATTABOY (helpful vote) :)

best regards,


Posted on Nov 18, 2009 1:15:07 PM PST
Last edited by the author on Nov 18, 2009 1:17:39 PM PST
Edward says:
[Customers don't think this post adds to the discussion. Show post anyway. Show all unhelpful posts.]

In reply to an earlier post on Nov 19, 2009 7:18:34 AM PST
heh... heh... heh....

That Edward shore is a corker! Yes, he shore is.

I wish somebody would'da punched holes in MY mayonnaise jar -- I feel AWFUL!

love to all.

big pat

In reply to an earlier post on Dec 30, 2009 6:55:20 AM PST
Edward, perhaps you should read some lighter fare for a while. You cannot read a simple review without trying to make the writer feel ignorant.

People take some joy in finding a new and wonderful author and sharing it with others. I would hate to have to live in your head.

In fact I will probably read your suggested books and stories, though you could have presented them in a less nasty fashion. It's not hard.

In reply to an earlier post on Sep 11, 2012 10:42:10 AM PDT

Posted on Jan 26, 2016 8:43:16 PM PST
LizaJane says:
Great review of an amazing book which most would find difficult to describe!
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