This novel is one of the great works of fiction. It exists on many layers and moves from tragedy to comedy in a seemless fashion. The audio version could be better, but it is very difficult to translate from the Russian. Still, a great way to experience this masterpiece.
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.
I'm a monkey!
This story is unexpected and surprises you at every turn. You really can't see where it's going. Really a fun listen.
The character of the devil was never who you thought he would be.
Funny and brilliant. It's a great read. The performer is superb especially when he is reading Satan. The story is intricate but very playful. I will probably read twice and look up on Wikipedia to see how the names are all spelt.
I give every book and author a chance. I like books that grab you and evoke an emotional response.
It was a nice glimpse into this time in Russia, but mostly it was a fun and funny story with a satirical bent. Good read.
Yes I imagine everytime you listen something new will appear.
Margarita turning intoma witch and going to Satan's ball.
Many moved me to laughter.