The Devil comes to Moscow, but he isn't all bad; Pontius Pilate sentences a charismatic leader to his death, but yearns for redemption; and a writer tries to destroy his greatest tale, but discovers that manuscripts don't burn. Multi-layered and entrancing, blending sharp satire with glorious fantasy, The Master and Margarita is ceaselessly inventive and profoundly moving. In its imaginative freedom and raising of eternal human concerns, it is one of the world's great novels.
(P)2009 Naxos Audiobooks
Word loving college student with a 2+ hour daily commute, who sadly had to learn to accept that reading and driving are plainly incompatible
The core of this piece is satire, marking a path of wanton destruction through Moscow as Satan and his delightfully hooligan entourage parade from one scene to another causing chaos and watching the aftermath in the name of...well, why the hell not? There is also a love story as well as retelling of the history of Pontius Pilate.
Marked with numerous interesting characters, Bulgakov creates a readable if somewhat uneven tale. The title characters are introduced about halfway through the novel and are an attempt to create some sort of deeply affecting love story, that I don't consider all that effective given that it is pretty much the sole aspect of their personality we see is them pining for one another. However, title characters or not they are not there often and rarely without Woland or his minions at their side in order to make things interesting. The satire is effectively humorist and blasts Soviet greed well, but then greed is a very easy thing to parody.
The most interesting aspect of the novel for me were the moments when we are given a metafiction/history written by The Master. The language is wonderful and the imagery is perfectly evocative and I truly wished I had the option of reading more.
The narrator, which is quickly becoming the make or break factor of every audiobook I purchase, is, to my mind, remarkable. While the accents are all variously British, they are unique and he endows every character with a certain uniqueness and charisma (or lack thereof if the book should call for it) and should be beloved by all. I can't honestly understand the negative marks throughout the rest of audible. If you want a boring consistent drone of a voice, I think you are better listening to an automation than a legitimate audiobook.
Additionally, the translation (Michael Karpelson, 2006) is my personal favorite and has the most personality (the others I have read are much more dry in their translation and it shows heavily in the dialogue). This book was left incompletely edited when the author died, not being all that well acquainted with the rest of his work, which would explain some of the issues, but issues or not this book is a delightful read with a solid narrator.
Russian literature gets a bad rap for being dry, thick, and dull, when the reality is much of the most respected Russian literature is filled with fantastic flights of fancy, and outrageous absurdities. Take, for example, a small scene in Anna Karenina where all of a sudden we get narration from the point of view of Levin's hunting dog. This scene seems so natural it's easy to forget we're getting the inner-monologue of a dog. Gogol, who Bulgakov is most similar too, was famous for his absurdities: his story The Nose is about a man's nose that leads a life of its own. And even that most serious of authors, Dostoevsky, wrote his best works about the struggles of man against the powers of the supernatural. And while many good people would scoff at the idea of religion being lumped into the same category as mere "fantasy", the idea of a naked witch riding a man turned into a pig over a sleeping Moscow is not that much harder to believe than an angel falling from heaven and corrupting all of mankind.
But what is this book about? Yes, the plot is easy enough: The Devil comes to Moscow, causes all sorts of trouble, then leaves, but that's not what the book is "about". For me, this novel was about a search for truth.
Famously, Communism biggest flaw was that after awhile everyone under it grew apathetic, nobody bothered to fix or change anything because it couldn't be fixed or changed; there was no point looking for the broken pieces because it would just cause a lot of trouble. But couldn't the same thing be said of religion? How do we know that the story of Jesus and Pontius Pilate happened as it says in the New Testament? Bulgakov makes a good case for his version of events being much more realistic than what's in the Christian Bible. Yet the story we have in the Gospels talks about a man who while being crucified suffered so that man could be forgiven for all their sins and on the third day after his burial he rose from the dead and ascended into heaven. Millions of people take that for an absolute, unarguable fact.
But how do stories really get told? Aren't the best stories really just exaggerations built upon more exaggerations? Couldn't the story of Homer in The Odyssey have started out as a true tale of a man lost at sea for awhile who managed to return home (an exciting enough story as it is), but then have been built upon by countless storytellers who turned it into the epic poem we now know? And maybe that's why in this novel The Master is belittled by the editors - not just because he's written the true (and less supernatural) version of events concerning Pontius Pilate and Jesus - but because he's dared to use his imagination at all in communist Russia. After all, Russia at the time was a state built on scientific reason, absolute logic, and pure atheism; Russia was building a new world order but was failing miserable, as Voland quickly discovers and as Bulgakov so humorously explores.
One of the greatest feats the novel pulls off is creating Pontius Pilate as a sympathetic, complex character. He's not made out to be the good guy, but neither is he all evil, either. And by the end of the novel we understand the real meaning of what Jesus (Yeshua here) preached when he said all men are good (something Pilate completely disagreed with). Salvation awaits for even the most troubled of people and is where, I believe, Bulgakov was being optimistic about what would happen one day in Russia - that communism would fail (which it did 60 years later).
However, all this would be just dry academic babbling if the book itself weren't any good, and oh, boy is this book wonderful. Ranging from moments of pure insanity - a cat with a gun - to moments of beautiful tenderness such as the fate of Judas and the moonbeams, this novel covers so much ground that it's nearly impossible to pin down and say with any certainty what it's really all "about". What is is though is wonderful, funny, and touching. The Master and Margarita is one helluva story and there is nothing else quite like it.
If, like me, you were perplexed by Gogol (nose?? overcoat??), you will probably be even more befuddled by this novel that includes Satan, Pontius Pilate, and housing issues in post-Revolutionary Moscow. I felt as if I were somehow missing information critical to enjoying the work, as if it were a long inside joke that other people seem to appreciate enormously, but which left me puzzled and unmoved. I could never have gotten through the book without Julian Rhind-Tutt's oustanding narration. Not only did he help sustain my interest when it flagged, but his different voices helped me track who was who in the panoply of generously-named characters, with their longs surnames, patronymics, and nicknames or aliases (always more difficult when you don't have the printed page for reference). Rhind-Tutt has a lovely range of expression, uses pacing and variations in tone to advantage, and does a terrific silky Satan.
The Master and Margarita lurches violently between different tones farcical, romantic, surreal, tragic, and back again). I enjoyed parts of it more than others. The chapters that actually deal with the eponymous Master and Margarita and their pact with the devil and his minions are wonderful: poetic, intellectual and comic, often all at the same time. Unfortunately, it takes a long time to get to these sections, as much of the novel consists of farcical satire on various comical minor characters who are probably funny if you are familiar with life in 1930s Moscow, but merely feel like a lot of irritating wittering if you're not. I found myself frequently wanting to hit the chapter skip button.
Still, this may be just a matter of personal taste, and if anyone can get you through the more irksome chapters, it's Julian Rhind-Tutt, whose performance is quite brilliant, capturing the mixture of tones extremely well, injecting a scabrous nastiness into the farcical scenes, and giving the Devil a wonderfully lugubrious smugness.
The ending is spellbinding and I'm glad I persisted with this audiobook. It's a slog sometimes, but it's worth the journey.
I write for myself, for my own pleasure. And I want to be left alone to do it. - Salinger ^(;,;)^
A complete acid trip of a novel. My favorite part was the conversation between Pilate and Yeshua Ha-Nozri (Jesus). Well, I also dug Behemoth's penchant for guns, chess and vodka. This is one of those dream-like novels requiring the reader to spend years unwrapping. Its truth comes briefly during those dangerous, full-moon moments between sleep and wake.
Bulgakov's imagination is incredible. This is Faust on steroids. The basic plot line revolves around the devil coming to Moscow in the Stalin era. If you can accept that as the premise, you'll enjoy this highly entertaining, often laugh-outloud funny book. Despite the sometimes outrageous scenes, the book will also make you think about such issues as good and evil, Pilate vs. Jesus, Soviet secret police, etc. No wonder my Russian friends tell me this is the most popular novel among today's Russians.
Julian Rhind-Tutt is just fantastic as a reader. He has a different voice for the many different characters, making it easy to follow a Russian story where everyone seems to have at least three different names.
To me, this book is so brilliant and magical that I wasn't sure any narrator could do it justice. However, the narrator captured the spirit and exuberance of this book and brought it beautifully to life. I know it shouldn't be possible to have a favorite book, but this is mine - the best novel ever written. Bulgakov is a genius and the reader, Julian Rhind-Tutt, is absolutely wonderful.
This novel is without a doubt one of the finest gems of the 20th century, as others have written. But I wish to highlight this audiobook's narrator, who brings the spoken word performance to a new art form, creating exactly the right voice for each of the more than one hundred characters large and small that speak as the multi-layered story unfolds. My favorite is the urbane and mocking Professor Wolland (the Devil in disguise), but close seconds are the members of the Devil's entourage, Azezello, Behemoth (the giant cat) and Koroviev, the 7-foot-tall "former choir director." Julian Rhind-Tutt, an accomplished British character actor, provides proof that there is such a thing as performing a text. Brilliant! And one of my favorite reasons that I'm glad Audible exists.
What a superb novel, and what a truly outstanding performance. Never a dull moment. Post romanticism at its best. The whole thing a kind of creepy Chagall window.
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.
This went to my top five favorite audiobooks by the first twenty minutes, absolutely wonderful reading of this weird, funny, scary, profound satire/whatever it is. The dryly sarcastic narrative voice is pitch-perfect, the huge cast of characters wonderfully done. Not often a book this good gets and equally great performance. Fantastic!!
"Good fun but a bit too long for me"
I enjoyed this book - particularly the narration which is a real tour de force and makes the book for me - but I confess that I did find it rather long and tending to go around in circles towards the end. It is also quite difficult to keep track of all the multifarious characters with strange Russian names and I did get quite confused at times! Some brilliant and laugh out loud funny set pieces though particularly in the first half which the narrator really brings alive - I can see why the book is regarded as a masterpiece.
Overall, four stars for me.
This novel is a rare experience - compelling, moving, bizarre and enlightening. One of those novels where you find yourself wondering "how can anyone write this kind of thing?" There will be times where you find yourself shrinking from the savagery and times when you find yourself laughing out loud. Julian Rhind-Tutt's performance is just about perfect.
"Great reading of a fabulous book"
A number of people have named this to me as their 'favourite book'. It would certainly feature in my top ten; it is a rich work that rewards careful reading and consideration but can also drag you along with its surreal story.
The reading is excellent, and the narrator conveys the air of mystery and fear that pervades the Moscow of the novel.
I have read the translation by Michael Glenny (as opposed to this one by Michael Kabulson). There are some things that sounds better me to in the Glenny translation - for example the transaltion of Ivan Bezdomny to Ivan Homeless, just sounds a bit wrong. However, this is a minor point, and there is no other translation available on audible.
Overall, a fantastic book and a great reading.
"BULGAKOV IS THE MASTER"
This book is a great work and is well read. At times it could make a cat laugh. The Pontius Pilate passages are vivid and moving. The work is imaginative interesting and original. Listen and be entertained. When you think about the context in which it was written it makes this both a brilliant and a also brave classic.
"Madness where it matters"
Wonderfully surreal story by one of my favourite authors. A satire on life in Stalinist Russia, this is a fantastical classic work of literature and read sympathetically. Enjoy.
"Worth a listen"
Well written and captivating book - though I think would be all the more enjoyable if I had a more complete grasp of Russian history at this point, the broad strokes of the satire I get, but I am sure some of the more subtle nuances are being missed by me. On the whole, interesting, vivid and colourful, worth a listen.
What a captivating story this one is. I loved it from the fist hour to the last. Thanks Julian for telling this story in such a lively manner. All the characters were really a joy to listen to.
I'm sure I will listen to this audiobook more often.
The story is witty, sarcastic and funny with a dark undertone.
This is one of my favorite stories to read/listen.
I read the book many times myself and now somebody reads it for me :-) It is a wonderful story full of wit and fantasy, breathing with an absurd atmosphere of first-half-of-the-last-century Russia. Very well narrated. I can only recommend!
"Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Moskva River"
This book should be on the bucket-list of all readers of great fiction. A stinging critique of the communist system and it's tenets wrapped up in a wild and uproarious fantasy. Julian Rhind-Tutt's sardonic delivery draws us into a normal day in 1930's which rapidly spirals out of control. The world seemingly turns upside down as we travel back to Biblical times, get involved in a passionately tender love story and meet the Devil himself.
"WHY NO FIVE STARS THEN"? you ask. "What's wrong"? Once again it's the translation. Us Brits (60+million of us) are not deemed important enough to have our own translation so what we have this one using American English which grates on the ears. Usual stuff: "bills" for "notes" "pants" for trousers etc. It spoils an otherwise fine recording narrated by an excellent British reader. The result - we are transported to Russia by a fine British voice reading American English and we are stuck between the Devil and the Deep Blue Moskva River.
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