This book piqued my interest because it was described as having controversial & hilarious religious and 1930s Moscow satire. I think I would have liked this book more if 1) I lived in 1930s Moscow and 2) if I was very religious. But living in 2015 America, this book was just too dull for me. Too, too dull. :( I tried really hard to like it, but just couldn't make it happen. I listened to the audiobook and I WILL say, the reader Julian Rhind-Tutt was phenomenal -- in his pace, tone, voices, and just overall talent. So hats off to him...
I love reading and listening to books, especially fantasy, science fiction, children's, historical, and classics.
The Prince of Darkness, posing as Professor Woland, specialist in black magic, has come to USSR-era Moscow to people watch and to host his annual ball. And if the Satanic entourage--consisting of Behemoth, a snarky, black cat jester, Azazello, a red-haired buffoonish assassin, Koroviev, a tall, cracked pince-nez wearing interpreter con man, and Hella, a semi-nude succubus--raises a little hell in the city, most of the victims deserve their fates. The satiric mayhem in Mikhail Bulgakov's The Master and Margarita (1928-1940; 1967), smoothly translated by Michael Karpelson, targets the literary world, the mental health profession, the communal apartment system, the police, popular entertainment, greed and pride, and, perhaps, atheistic rationality.
Among those caught up in it all are Berlioz (an editor who believes that Jesus never existed), Ivan "Homeless" (a bad poet who becomes upset by the editor's fate), the managers of the Variety Theater, and, saving the novel, the Master and Margarita. The Master (who has renounced his real name along with the world) has written a novel about the Procurator of Judea, Pontius Pilate, and his brief but eternal relationship with Yeshua Ha-Nozri (Jesus) in Yershalayim (Jerusalem). Through the main story of the devil's visit to modern Moscow, Bulgakov interweaves chapters from the Master's historical novel which feel more vivid, interesting, affecting, strange, and real than most of the surreal contemporary events. The writer's lover, Margarita, has encouraged him and called him the Master because of her esteem for his genius and work, but in a Moscow dominated by atheist literati, to try to publish a novel featuring a real Jesus is to invite public scorn and condemnation, which has driven the Master into an insane asylum.
Part One of Bulgakov's novel was difficult to enjoy, bearing too many too lengthy supposedly funny but actually boring burlesque satiric fantasy sequences, like the nightmare of the chairman of the tenant's association in which he appears on stage before an audience of bearded economists and is commanded by an actor to turn over all his hidden foreign currency. I found that I didn't care for or about most of the Moscow characters and was asking myself, "This is supposed to be one of the greatest novels in the twentieth century?" In fact, if it weren't for two chapters featuring Pilate and Yeshua and one introducing the Master, I might have lost the will to soldier on.
Fortunately, Part Two incorporates more of the Master's novel and begins with Margarita, and because I cared about her and the Master, I began enjoying the surreal fantasy sequences, which became so imaginative, scary, humorous, and moving that I ended up liking Satan and his buffoonish entourage and the novel as a whole. For example, Margarita's application of infernal ointment over her entire body and subsequent witchly joy ("invisible and free!") and flight and ball hostessing are all magically and darkly alive, the marksman contest between Behemoth and Azazello is great fun, Pilate's walk with his dog and Yeshua along a lunar staircase is beautiful, and the ride of the infernal band on black horses into moonlit storm clouds is sublime.
The reader Julian Rhind-Tutt gives a virtuoso performance fluidly switching between a variety of voices for the many different characters in their different moods and modes, among them Behemoth nasally sarcastic and mocking, the devil scary, urbane, and humane, and Yeshua calmly kind and reasonably insane (or unreasonably sane). Although during the first part of the novel's interminable surreal satiric sequences, Rhind-Tutt's frenetic and high-pitched voice got on my nerves, his Pilate, Aphrenius (Pilate's hooded chief of secret police), Yeshua, Devil, and Margarita are all full of wonderful gravitas, and I did enjoy his satanic minions' voices in Part Two of the book, and overall he brought the novel even more to life than only reading it would have done.
You gotta love good advice from the Devil like "Never ask anything of anyone, especially if they are more powerful than you," and "Everyone receives what they believe in," and when you add to them wisdom from Jesus by way of Pilate like "Cowardice is the greatest sin," and then think that Bulgakov was writing during the most oppressive era of the USSR and had his books and plays banned because he would not toe the party line, and that he devastatingly satirizes Moscow and Soviet Union life, and that he sympathetically portrays villains like the Devil and Pilate, when you keep all those things in mind, you sense that Bulgakov must have wished he could make a deal with the devil like the Master's.
Spreadhead and Biblioholic.
The Master and Margarita consists of two different story tracks: one involves Satan and his companions arriving in 1930's Moscow, the other involving the crucifixion from Pontius Pilate’s point of view. These two narrative threads are intertwined throughout the novel.
The adventures of the Devil and his retainers in Moscow are delightfully absurd. Their brief sojourn in the city is a direct affront to the Stalinist order as they confront corrupt bureaucrats at every turn. This is (I believe) the only classic of Russian literature in which a huge black cat attacks the NKVD with a machine gun. In retrospect, it is a great example of Stalin's caprice (especially when it came to artists) that Bulgakov was allowed to continue breathing, much less working. Not surprisingly, this work was not allowed to be published after well after the deaths of both men.
The passages dealing with Pilate are beautiful. One almost feels sympathy for the Procurator and the sticky situation he finds himself in, trapped between his desire to administer Roman justice and his need to keep the local population mollified. The part concerning the initial trial of Christ is particularly well written.
Even though this is generally regarded as one of the best novels of the twentieth century by many intellectual types, it was a satisfying read and did not feel like "culture". It is depressing to think what other great works might have come out of Russia during the last century if the Soviets had not suppressed all art that did not support their concept of Socialist Realism.
The narration on this was PERFECT. The author's change of tones between the two tracks of the story and his different voices for the characters, especially the devil's retainers, were superb.
My interests run to psychology, popular science, history, world literature, and occasionally something fun like Jasper Fforde. It seems like the only free time I have for reading these days is when I'm in the car so I am extremely grateful for audio books. I started off reading just the contemporary stuff that I was determined not to clutter up my already stuffed bookcases with. And now audio is probably 90% of my "reading" matter.
Without a doubt the best novel I have read in years. I cannot shake the feeling that there are multiple layers of references that I am missing through my own ignorance of Eastern European history in general and 1930s Russian society in particular. Even without that, it is enormously entertaining. It is also somewhat telling how similar Soviet Russia and the US are when you get right down to cases. And human nature is universal no matter what kind of system you try to impose on it.
It is a fairly densely written novel. Apart from a number of Moscow-specific place references, it assumes some familiarity with the New Testament, the Faust story, and their influence on European history in the intervening centuries. All of this is put into play in the service of a satire on contemporary Soviet society in the pre-World War II period. It is of course much more than a mere social satire.
While there is a comic tone that runs throughout most of the book, there are serious aspects as well. I am hard put to think of another book that touches on so many different aspects of humanity. The title characters manage to stay out of center stage through most of it; perhaps their essential dignity shelters them in some way... In any case, the book functions at a number of levels. It is eminently satisfying. I was sorry it had to end. Even though there were some unanswered questions, it still felt like the book had reached its natural place of conclusion, and I was happy to leave things exactly the way the author chose to leave them.
Yes, tremendously clever.
Behemoth and Azazello, such rich characters.
His reading of Behemoth was without par... Very very entertaining
I am astounded that this was a Russian author, having read a number of the other dour Russian authors who always seem to put together a tome that required stamina and dedication.This was a delight to read, and was also quite a bit more than a delightful story, really made me think about Pontius and own responsibility to our actions.
It's a great book but the narrator dramatizes every character into a caricature. It's extremely disorienting and annoying. Couldn't get through it for that reason alone. I ended up buying the actual book.
This book reveals a surprising story and amateur or metaphors and twisted stories will enjoy it. The voice though is sometimes loud and sometimes very low which made it difficult to follow in the street or public areas. But characters are well impersonated
It's combination of deep psychological insight and its profound,
side splitting humor.
One of the final scenes in which the meaning of forgiveness is portrayed in the experience of Pontius Pilate.
His delivery and insight into Bulgakov's humor is delightful.