he Master and Margarita, from the Russian writer Mikhail Bulgakov, is an odd birthday present to get. In fact, outside of the smiling black cat on the cover (with a weird forked tongue), I didn’t “get” why my wife gave this to me as a present. I mean, outside of Anna Karenina (which I read so long ago it isn’t even on my book review list), I don’t do much Russian Literature. Then my wife reminded me – this was the book Sonja was reading when Ove first met her (from A Man Called Ove). Her eyes sparkled when she read and JB thought that maybe mine would too.
Well, I didn’t devour it quite like Sonja did – being American, I’m in a whole other hemisphere from Russia (whereas Sonja is sophisticated and in the Eurosphere, so maybe she gets it more). Anyway, as near as I can figure, and without spoilers, the novel takes place in Moscow. The devil has just arrived to work up some mischief and decides to work it against the official arts community (from the book’s forward, it seems the author struggled all his life to get anything in print and on stage, constantly stifled by officials of the arts). So there is a certain bitterness, I assume, which gets resolved as the various members of the art community are either killed (I think only one fatality) or arrested or placed in the sanitarium. The devil has a long game – I won’t say what it is but it involves the titular characters (star-crossed lovers who strive to see a masterwork published (a book narrating the critical days of Pontius Pilate’s surrounding the crucifixion)). So the book unfolds in hilarious (for Russians) and humorous (for the rest of us) fashion, with those snooty arts snobs getting their just deserts. Lucifer is wonderfully written and quite fearful yet caring. And the chapter where Margarita becomes a witch and rides a broom, those scenes will stick with me.
So yes, a little cultural reading for me, another time and place to experience.
Now, if only compassionate, inspirational Sonja could explain some parts to me, I’d enjoy it more. After all, she taught problem children to appreciate Shakespeare.
A tough read, but worth it.