- Paperback: 384 pages
- Publisher: Vintage (March 19, 1996)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0679760806
- ISBN-13: 978-0679760801
- Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.8 x 8 inches
- Shipping Weight: 9.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 893 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #20,292 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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The Master and Margarita Paperback – March 19, 1996
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“One of the truly great Russian novels of [the twentieth] century.” —New York Times Book Review
“The book is by turns hilarious, mysterious, contemplative, and poignant . . . A great work.” —Chicago Tribune
“Bulgakov’s The Master and Margarita is a soaring, dazzling novel; an extraordinary fusion of wildly disparate elements. It is a concerto played simultaneously on the organ, the bagpipes, and a pennywhistle, while someone sets off fireworks between the players’ feet.” —New York Times
“Fine, funny, imaginative . . . The Master and Margarita stands squarely in the great Gogolesque tradition of satiric narrative.” —Newsweek
“A wild surrealistic romp . . . Brilliantly flamboyant and outrageous.” —Joyce Carol Oates
Text: English (translation)
Original Language: Russian
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The first time I read The Master and Margarita in Russian, it was, out of all places, in Berlin. I was a teenager, and I lived in Berlin with my father and his new wife and my half-sister, because my father was a writer and a journalist and was sent by Soviet Union to Berlin to be the correspondent for a large Russian newspaper agency. I remember reading the book so vividly, that even today every detail is etched in my brain like a colorful photograph. The soft bright chair I sat in, with my back toward the window, the book in my lap, the pages rustling, and the image of Margarita, most importantly, of her knee, the knee that's been kissed over and over and how it turned blue. And the cat, the black cat that could talk. That's all I remember, plus the feeling of fascination I got. And now, over 20 years later, I have read it again, after becoming a writer myself 2 years ago, not knowing back in my teens that I would ever write, but being struck by the genius of Bulgakov. And, my, oh my, rereading it now I understood for the first time what the book was about. I sort of thought of it as a fairy tale back in my teens, I felt something underneath it, but couldn't get it. I got it now, and I cried, I cried for Bulgakov, for his imprisonment as a writer in the country that oppressed him to the last of his days, and I cried because he refused to be broken, and because he has written a masterpiece, and I was holding it in my hands, reliving it like so many people, many many years after he died.
As to the story. It's not just one story, and not even two, it's four. A story of love, and of darkness, and of life and death. There are four narratives, the love between Master and Margarita, the strange visitors and Satan who come to Moscow, the story of Moscow life itself, the city, the people, and the story of Yeshua in the ancient walls of Yershalayim. Each has its own flavor, breathes its own air, and weaves into one book that tethers on that notion that no work of art can be destroyed, "manuscripts don't burn", says Satan, and that's Bulgakov's pain, him against the system that wanted to crush him, and didn't. He escaped. The irony of the book is that, in some sense, it's autobiographical, and that makes it even more tragic. But the satire! Oh, the satire! I don't know how many times I snorted coffee and tea out of my nose, because I have this habit of drinking hot drinks while reading, curled up on the couch. So many memories burst on the scene, so many authentic Russian quirks and habits and characters, the wealth of which I have nearly forgotten over my 16 years in US, and which dazzled my mind like fireworks, albeit of course, because I was reading it in Russian, and I'm about to start reading two translations in English, one by Mirra Ginsburg, and another by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky. Because, if there was ever a book worth reading 5, 10, 20 times in a row, it is The Master and Margarita by Bulgakov, his last book written over the course of 10 years, and not quite completed… he narrated changes to his wife right up to his death. No matter. It is perfect. Read it.
Written 1928-1940, not yet completely finished at Bulgakov's death with the result that there are a few minor inconsistencies in some of the chapters of the second part. A final text was prepared in 1963 by the author's widow (being the not-completely-edited manuscript as it was when the author died), and it finally saw the light of day when published in a Russian magazine Nov. 1966 & Jan. 1967. However, that was in a censored version, with 10-15% of the text cut; uncensored versions, however, circulated in the Soviet underground. Russian versions of the complete text where published in France and Germany later in 1967. The first version published in the U.S.S.R. was prepared by Anna Saakyants in 1973, with some additions and changes, including passages Bulgakov had crossed out, but had not re-edited at the time of his death. Then, a new version by Lidiya Vanovskaya arrived in 1989 which was closer to the original 1963 typescript of the widow (eliminating certain passages added in the 1973 edition -- compliant with Bulgakov's wishes, but resulting in further inconsistencies).
The sensation the original resulted in two English translations being quickly made and issued in 1967: Mira Ginsburg (considered a good translation, but from the censored text, so not complete), and Michael Glenny (of the uncensored version, but the translator appears to have taken some liberties with the text). Both these have appeared in several editions over the years, and both may still be available. Both have been praised and panned as to their accuracy by different reviewers. Not being able to read a word of Russian myself, I have had to take the word of others as to their respective accuracy. Glenny is considered to read much like Bulgakov wrote, but I have noted some passages which are too far off from those of other translators.
Next was the version by translators Diana Burgin & Katherine Tiernan O"Connor (1995, based on the Vanovskaya, but also incorporating some needed passages from the 1973 edition), supposedly highly accurate and considered a far better job than the books which appeared in 1967. This was followed soon after by that of Richard Pever & Larissa Volokhonsky (1997, for Penguin, based on the 1963 typescript), also considered an accurate account. Despite much praise for the Burgin-O'Connor, I found it to be tough reading, the style just doesn't flow well for me, and I have come to question some aspects the translation. However, it does include a few added passages which Bulgakov had removed, but not yet corrected for, which make other things clearer. Of these two, I cannot say I prefer one over the other, but the Pevear-Volokhonsky appears to have better translations of certain words and a little bit better flow of the writing. Both have extensive end-notes which aid in understanding many of the literary and historical allusions. Despite the presence of better texts, Ginsburg and Glenny both read better than either of these and I find neither to be a joy.
A somewhat obscure translation by a Michael Karpelson appeared in 2006 (based on the Saakyants edition, with the clarifying passages), which is now on Wordsworth Classics Master and Margarita (Wordsworth Classics). This one is certainly worth looking for as it in all ways, to me, has advantages -- choice of words, textual additions, sentence flow, etc. -- over the 4 which came before. Also has end-notes, but not as extensive as the other recent editions. It is my (present) top choice.
And, then there is this one, translated by Hugh Aplin (2008, OneWorld Classics, now called Alma Classics). I am not sure which Russian version it is based on; an end-note states it is from a text approved by the Bulgakov estate (it does not observe the crossed-out material), published in 1996 and 2004; this may be based on a completely different text version entirely. I must admit, I have not yet read this cover-to-cover, but I have read sections/chapters and made comparisons with others, and this comes out very favorably and possibly reads better in some places than any of the others. One objection I have found to this version is that a number of Russian terms have been left untranslated, with no notes to explain their meaning (though, there are notes a-plenty in the back). The flow of the words is very good and provides a straight-forward reading. This translation I rate as one of the better ones.
As a major fan of "The Master and Margarita", at this time I find anyone looking for an English translation of what is one of the greatest novels of the 20th Century (actually, what I consider the greatest novel of all time) should look to that of 1) Karpelson, though 2) Aplin is not far behind. Either one would do nicely if only a single translation is desired. Ginsburg could also be near the top, but her text was corrupt. Glenny is good for reading, but sort of out as a translation due to some odd liberties he took with the text. This leaves for 3) Burgin/O'Connor, then 4) Pever/Volokhonsky. However, none of these are really bad, very inaccurate, nor to be completely rejected. I now have all 6, and I'm keeping all of them.
Also suggested: Another fine spoof on Soviet society -- Bulgakov's "Heart of a Dog".
[later addendum to my above review: I have re-read the Burgin-O'Connor translation, and now have a greater respect for it. At least, this time, the story flow went better for me, and I was more comfortable with other aspects of it. My number one choice, however, remains Karpelson, now with Aplin and Burgin-O'Connor in a close tie for second place. Also, the Burgin-O'Connor might prove easier to find than the other two, though I am certain someone on Amazon would be able to supply. Read and enjoy.]
2nd Addendum -- this one pertains to the Hugh Aplin translation here under review. I have now read it completely, and declare this translation to be excellent, perhaps even slightly preferable to the Karpelson. The reading of this is an easy-flowing joy, though one may expect to encounter some "Britishisms" that an American reader may not be familiar with. There are numerous passages which Aplin makes sharp and clear, where some of the other translations give turgid readings. Choice of words appears to be fairly literal, without creating some of the difficulties this sometimes brings about. This edition has end-notes, though not nearly as many as found in either Burgin-O'Connor or Pevear-Volokhonsky; but, also includes several photos of the author and Moscow scenes and an extensive biography of Bulgakov. A highly recommended translation, as is the Karpelson.