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.
Loved how it made my imagination fantasize in new peculiar ways! The situations were brilliantly portraited in an old Moscow that just envelope you. And oh the tales from Pontius Pilot! Exquisite reading. Thank you Messiah.
The jury is still out on the story - at the moment, I don't like the fact that Satan is benevolent in the tale, because he is definitely NOT like that in reality - but I felt compelled to review this book for the superlative performance. It is a sublime to experience the reader getting on the inside of each character, and giving the voice, intonation, accent, etc. that suits the character to perfection. His rendering of Woland is the absolute tops. I just finished - and feel like starting over just to hear again this genius of a reader.
Would love to see this as a movie or play...it's so visual. Charting the characters names would have been helpful since many are called by more than 1 name. I will read this again when I have time to reread the references and more of the historical reality being satirized.
A relieved "Yes!" I have recommended the written version again and again over the years, and am happy to say I can now recommend this audio version, as well.
It's possible that comparable elements might be found in other books, but there is no one book out there that is quite like The Master and Margarita. Ask anyone who's ever read it and s/he will likely say the same.
I discovered this book in my early twenties and have read it maybe seven or eight times over the years - every time there's been a new English translation, and once or twice just to visit an old friend. I am 50 now, and this treasure of a novel just keeps giving.
As a person who tends to have a hard time choosing any one "favorite" thing, I don't use the term lightly. My fellow book lovers will understand, then, the depth of my gratitude to Julian Rhind-Tutt for not ruining my favorite book of all time.
He did more than not ruin it - in fact, he nailed it, with great energy and precision. So much so, that I began to think he must love this book as much as I, and so many others, do.
His character voices were excellent (thankfully, the hilariously depraved Behemoth is rendered flawlessly, as is his comrade-in-irreverence, Koroviev.) It seemed to me a good choice to use a variety of British/UK and other western European accents, as opposed to Russian ones; It made the humor, in particular, just that little bit more accessible to the English-speaking listener. Having said that, Mr. Rhind-Tutt seemed to have no trouble with Russian nomenclature. I don't speak Russian so I'm no expert, but his pronunciation was at the very least smooth and consistent.
Turns out Julian Rhind-Tutt is a fine actor. My biggest concern was that he'd miss some of the moods of this complex novel, but he caught them all - the snark, the slapstick, the darkness, the restlessness, the passion, and the poignancy - and all with the same deftness. I was already somewhat familiar with his work in movies and various BBC series, so I know him to be an engaging performer. However, as fans of audio books know, listening to a good actor narrate a good book is a peculiarly intimate experience. I now have new respect for Mr. Rhind-Tutt. In particular, he captures - surprise! - Margarita beautifully.
When I purchased this audio edition over a year ago, I found myself avoiding listening to it because I feared it might be a disappointing experience. I'm glad that last weekend I finally decided to give it a chance. Everyone knows there is no harsher critic than a disappointed fan; Mr. Rhind-Tutt may consider himself officially Worthy. Other TMAM fans rejoice! A thousand thanks to the producers & director(s), and, most especially, to Julian Rhind-Tutt.
No. It needs to be savored.