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The Master and Margarita Paperback – April 9, 2009
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Bulgakov was punished for his outspoken writing and refusal to conform to the ideals of the Soviet State, and he suffered much for it. Suffering does not ensure art, let alone great art, but the experience of the Master and his beautiful, rejected novel about Pontius Pilate speak quite clearly of Bulgakov’s frustration and pain and longing for his own redemption.
“Gods, gods! How sad the evening earth! How mysterious the mists over the bogs! Whoever has wandered in these mists, whoever suffered deeply before death, whoever flew over this earth burdened beyond human strength knows it. The weary one knows it. And he leaves without regret the mists of the earth, its swamps and rivers, and yields himself with an easy heart to the hands of death, knowing that it alone can bring surcease.” (p. 383)
Several stories are intertwined, the namesake being the love affair between Margarita and the writer she calls, "Master," whose novel about Pontius Pilate and his inability to save a philosopher he admires greatly but whom he must condemn to death (Jesus Christ) becomes a book within the book which Margarita reads and supports obsessively as if it were a part of her own soul. The Master's book becomes blacklisted, and Bulgakov paints the Master's inability to get it published, his burning the manuscript out of grief, and his resulting depressive insanity. Excerpts from that book within a book repeat throughout the minds of several of the characters like a leitmotif of longing and proof of their spiritual connection with each other and the source of their inspiration.
The main story is about the Devil and his retinue and the madness they create in Moscow, madness which turns into transformation of the soul, a fantasy of relief from unbearable longing and fear of the unknown.
What is good? What is evil? Can good come from evil or evil come from what is propagandized as good and acceptable?
The translator, Mirra Ginsburg, in her "Translator's Introduction", states that Bulgakov labored over this book for twelve years. I think it is a sin for a reader to finish in two short days a work of art a writer labored over for twelve long years, but I couldn't help myself. I couldn't put it down!
This is a most incredible novel which I recommend to everyone. I will read it again and again.
Nonetheless, there is some positive note held out to self-sacrifice,even if this itself is combined with some revelatory and gratified self-realization in the end. Perhaps even the idea of self-sacrifice may be up to the author's bemusement. If one could fully understand the idiom of the Russian original more fully than I can claim to, it might be that even self-sacrifice may be held up to the light of skepticism.
Whatever the claims that I chose to make here of intent, the work clearly proceeds in its own boisterous manner -at the most basic level- as an enjoyable read.