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review 2017-07-01 17:45
The Master and Margarita - Mikhail Bulgakov, Michael Glenny 
The Master and Margarita - Mikhail Bulgakov,Michael Glenny

inspired "Sympathy for the Devil"

Finally getting to it now that Veronica is spending the summer learning Russian.

***

 

Ban the book; build the buzz.

 

Had it not been suppressed for forty years it wouldn't have become internationally famous. It's a bit of a mess. There's the love story of the Master, a writer, and Margarita. They're both inconveniently and unhappily married to other people, as apparently everyone was in the twenties. Don't worry, the useless-except-as-plot-devices spouses aren't in the book. The Master has written a moving novel about Pontius Pilate which no one will publish, a theme introduced early in the book: it is unacceptable to even consider that Jesus might have been a real person. This novel within the novel presents Pilate as being forced by law and politics to sentence Jesus to death, but far from washing his hands of the job, he strives to save him, to reduce his suffering, and to respect him after the crucifixion. I liked the Master's book and wouldn't have minded more of it.

 

Eventually the book settles down and concentrates on the suffering of the Master, but the first third of the book is devoted to satirizing Moscow's literary and theatrical (think vaudeville) world of the 20s. Not since Dante has a writer so indulged a desire to mock and punish. If these characters aren't real people I hope they're only thinly veiled ones, because otherwise they are too shallow to bother with. Their sins are mostly about getting a better apartment, which in an overcrowded urban environment is no sin at all. 

 

Knowing that this was the inspiration for "Sympathy for the Devil" I had high hopes going in for that character. Jagged and Richards did more and did it better than Bulgakov. He doesn't get to do much, he's just a man who is too old for in unpleasant job, but too decent to leave the hard work to someone else. His staff are all less powerful and less competent, but they seem to derive some pleasure from the business of pointing out folly in humans. Not much fun, really, considering what one might do, but a bit in the end.

 

There is some real fun when we finally get to Margarita: girlfriend gives it all over to being a witch, but it turns out that being a witch is also not as much fun as you might think. Bulgakov 's damned are a parade even he finds to tedious to recount.

 

The book does have a happy ending, for some bleak Russian notion of "happy". No doubt it was fun to write, but the titular characters don't have much agency, and the structure deprives the book of any real momentum until half way through, so even though I did become familiar with Russian names, overall it wasn't very rewarding. I wanted to love it: it features an oversized talking black cat, but even those bits were joyless until the last sixty pages.

 

Maybe the Soviets only suppressed it for being slow, and dull, neither instructive nor entertaining. Or maybe I should quit trying to read Russian fiction, since I never end up liking it. Or both.

 

Library copy

 

Edited to correct typo 

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review 2017-06-03 14:16
The Master and Margarita
The Master and Margarita - Mikhail Bulgakov

One hot summer afternoon the devil and his entourage comes to Moscov and wreaks havoc among the literary and artistic upper class.

 

That is the main premise of The Master and Margarita and this book has been an enjoyable tour de force of weirdness. It´s surreal and crazy and incredibly dark in its humour. The very first scene alone is so memorable, I guess I will never forget what happens to that poor guy. I have to say, though, that I didn´t enjoy reading a couple of chapters in the middle of the book (mainly because I didn´t like the character of Margarita and these chapters were about her).

 

It´s one of these books that I would have loved to study in an academic setting, simply because there is so much to analyse in this novel and I guess I don´t have enough knowledge about Stalin´s Russia to fully understand the satirical aspects of this novel. But even without that it´s a great book and I´m glad that I finally have read it.

 

There is a talking cat called Behemoth in this book and he is awesome:

 

Cat Behemoth of “Master and Margarita” by Bulgakov :)

[Source]

 

Page count: 371 pages

Money earned: $3.00

 

 

 

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review 2017-01-09 18:13
Synthesis, Story, The Master and Margarita
The Master and Margarita - Mikhail Bulgakov,Larissa Volokhonsky,Richard Pevear

The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov doesn't lend itself to summary, it throws a lot at the reader and keeps you off balance. A summary would probably be more confusing than anything else. Depending on what you have seen or heard, the devil is involved and a cat somehow plays a significant role. Also Soviet Russia, and whomever those title characters are, which -- like in the story -- I won't get to until later. But I'd like to write about technique, because the way Bulgakov has put together this story is enough to recommend in itself.

 

So, the lot of it. To start, there are a lot of characters -- including a Nikanor Ivanovich, a Nikolai Ivanovich and an Ivan Nikolaevich none of any relation to the others -- and it takes a while to try to sort out who is important and who isn't. Indeed, the important characters show up pretty late. We meet Berlioz right away and spend much of the first 50 pages with him, but then he is dispatched with. We don't even meet Margarita until more than halfway through the book! This isn't a critique. As I've said, the way Bulgakov withholds information makes the book exciting, we don't know what to make of this devil, and everything proceeds with this air of menace, especially when it touches characters we actually care about.

 

Lending to that menace, the first 200 pages seem to take from Kafka as much as Goethe, who comes up frequently in the footnotes. Nobody called for the devil -- not intentionally anyhow -- and mostly people want to get away from him. The punishments seem arbitrary at first and are convoluted. The devil and his crew are not above threats of violence but they seem to prefer going through official channels. It's surprising that Bulgakov was able to publish, even if he leaves the most unsavory aspects of Soviet life merely implied. The point is, there's no evil bargain, the devil here is more trickster than tempter. 

 

The ensemble in The Master and Margarita is unlike others I have come across, like Anna Karenina or even The Corrections, in which individual characters or plots occupy distinct tracks. In some stories they kind of balloon, the characters start together then go off in different directions and finally collide again at the end. In others, say in Anna Karenina, they sort of orbit each other, Anna's story and Levin's don't seem to affect each other, though they do both serve certain thematic elements. 

 

The Master and Margarita makes sense more as one of those perspective statues that are assembled from junk but at the perfect angle create some cohesive image. Here, the devil roams around menacing various bureaucrats in what at times feels like a series of vignettes. One chapter is even called "Hapless Visitors" which just sounds like a bunch of unrelated stories. But the devil also links them, forming a center from which all these stories spring, and back to which they ultimately point us, before the design starts to bear out in Book 2. Saying he is the center seems a weird way to phrase things, but it would be wrong to say the story is about the devil. The perspective is usually tied to the people he encounters and the story does seem to belong to the Master, Margarita and Homeless than to Woland (the devil), but he is more present. He is what happens to the protagonists, and all of Moscow.

 

Seen from the end The Master and Margarita is a much more structured and complete novel than it sometimes feels while you're reading it, but you don't have to get there to enjoy it. The story is fun throughout, mischievous and funny, and melancholy enough to give it weight.

 

Four and a half stars. This feels a bit generous but I'm in a generous mood, and it's a book I would like to read again, which says a lot.

 

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text 2016-08-29 13:04
July Wrap-Up
The Count of the Living Death (The Chronicles of Hildigrim Blackbeard) - Joshua Grasso
A Country Doctor’s Notebook - Mikhail Bulgakov
The Sociopath Next Door - Martha Stout
Little Princes: One Man's Promise to Bring Home the Lost Children of Nepal - Conor Grennan
The Haunted Forest Tour - James A. Moore;Jeff Strand
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone: The Illustrated Edition - J.K. Rowling,Jim Kay
Specimen 313 - Jeff Strand
Suckers - J. A. Konrath, Jeff Strand, Read by Dick Hill
A Wizard of Earthsea - Ursula K. Le Guin
Fresh Off the Boat: A Memoir - Eddie Huang

So, this is long overdue. I'm not posting my August reading list, for obvious reasons, but here's a list of what I read the previous month broken down by rating.

 

Books Read: 11

 

5 star: 0

 

4 star: 4

The Count of the Living Death

A Country Doctor's Notebook

The Sociopath Next Door

Little Princes: One Man's Promise to Bring Home the Lost Children of Nepal

 

3 star: 6

The Haunted Forest Tour

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone: Illustrated Edition

Specimen 313

Suckers

A Wizard of Earthsea

Fresh Off the Boat

 

 

2 star: 1

The Gilded Chain

 

1 star: 0

 

Reviews Written: 4

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review 2015-08-31 00:00
Иван Васильевич
Иван Васильевич - Mikhail Bulgakov,Mikhail Bulgakov ""
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