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Publisher's Summary

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.

Public Domain (P)2009 Naxos Audiobooks

Featured Article: Essential Russian Authors to Know in Audio


Don’t be daunted by the towering reputations of Russia’s literary giants. Listening is the perfect way to appreciate the masters. Russia is a sprawling country with a rich and complex history, which is reflected in its literature. Whether you’re keen on brushing up on classic Russian literature or you want to find a new author to explore, we’ve rounded up 13 of the best Russian authors, classic and contemporary, whose work you should know.

Editor's Pick

The Russian novel Russians love with a Tokyo setting
"I recently deep-dived on Russian classics for our editors’ podcast, Audicted, focusing on Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky. But guess what? Those heavy-hitters aren’t nearly as beloved back home as Bulgakov, and this book is widely considered the country’s favorite novel. I didn’t know *anything* could make me love Russian literature more, but that did it. This hallucinatory satire of 1930s Stalinist Moscow, in which the devil and his entourage come to town to raise hell, includes a gun-toting cat, a fascinating imagining of Pontius Pilate, and exquisite narration by Julian Rhind-Tutt. If you’re looking for what one reviewer calls "a complete acid trip of a novel," your search ends here."
Kat J., Audible Editor

What listeners say about The Master and Margarita

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    4 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars

Satisfying Satanic Satire

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.

78 people found this helpful

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There is nothing else quite like it

Any additional comments?

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.

35 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars

Worth the effort

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.

35 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars

Excellent narration of my favorite book

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.

13 people found this helpful

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    4 out of 5 stars

Baffling and original

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.

27 people found this helpful

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COMPLETE acid trip of a novel!

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.

30 people found this helpful

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Faust on steroids

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.

Highly recommended.

7 people found this helpful

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A Superb Performance by the Narrator

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.

7 people found this helpful

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Sympathy from the Devil (and for the Procurator)

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.

6 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars

The Master and Margarita

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.

13 people found this helpful

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  • Sydney
  • 11-19-09

Splendid

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!!

44 people found this helpful

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  • Stephen HJ
  • 09-12-16

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.

41 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
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  • Tom
  • 07-20-10

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.

34 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
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  • JodieJo
  • 04-08-10

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.

14 people found this helpful

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  • Paul Snook
  • 06-13-16

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.

8 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
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  • Andrew
  • 01-31-10

A pinnacle

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.

16 people found this helpful

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  • Martin
  • 12-03-16

One of the best audiobooks out there

Julian Rhind-Tutt brings every character to life in his perfect reading of this amazing novel. A must-listen for everyone.

7 people found this helpful

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  • @eleniaudibles
  • 07-11-18

A Mysterious, Hysteric and Fascinating Novel!

No-one pins an accurate description of Russian Society under Stalinist rule in a novel as well as Bulgakov! I truly didn't expect such a complex and touching novel when I bought this, let alone such a well-matched narration of it. The novel follows a handful of unique, mysterious and often grotesque characters, and a mix-matched connection with the biblical story of Pontius Pilate (all will make sense at the end!) Julian Rhind-Tutt does a really good job of simplifying what I was really worried would be a difficult read. I laughed, I cried and I found myself really thinking philosophically about the novel, even when I wasn't listening. If you're willing to be open-minded as you start reading, then this book really is wonderful; it's bittersweet, but it leaves you with questions about life, death and everything in-between and a metaphor for what living under Stalin meant for novelists and other artists. I really recommend this read; you'll enjoy it, it will make you question things around you and you will definitely learn something new!

6 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
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  • Chantal
  • 04-22-10

Marvellous story

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.

8 people found this helpful

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  • Patrick
  • 10-06-19

Perfect

"Putting aside the Primus, the cat whipped a Browning automatic from behind its back...'

Does anything come better than that?

Scintillatingly good narration by Julian Rhind-Tutt.

2 people found this helpful

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  • jdk
  • 07-25-16

Brilliant, absolutely brilliant. Read it!

Bulgakov's The Master and Margarita is a work of beautiful language, powerful characters, fantastic magic, and moving moral tales.

Julian Rhind-Tutt's superb reading brings life, light and humour to a story often, in the best way, abstract, absurd and surreal.

This edition is also a flawless translation to English.

A Masterpiece!

2 people found this helpful

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  • adam
  • 09-11-20

Masterpiece

It took while to finish but I fell in love with this novel. It’s a must read.

1 person found this helpful

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  • Anonymous User
  • 01-31-19

Insanely entertaining.

The story is insane. I think I'll be spending a lot of time trying to make sense what it all means.


Narrator is the best I've ever heard.

Highly recommended!

1 person found this helpful

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  • Kymo
  • 07-07-21

Funny, entertaining and random

Hard to form a proper opinion on this book. The Narrator was awesome as usual. The story was fun, though too disjointed for me. It has forced me to read up on Soviet Russia to appreciate the satire and historicity of the book...but still, it was not as epic as the reviews and critics had me believe it would be.

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  • Amazon Customer
  • 05-31-21

Excellent! ❤️

This has got to be one of best books ever written! Certainly of what I've read anyway! I've twice read the book, seen the movie & now listened to the story read to me with such excellent characterisation. Loved it immensely!
Interesting how history repeats itself ... Thank you.

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  • Amazon Customer
  • 01-31-21

brilliant

the third time I have read the book. Russia literature is so complex but intriguing

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  • Amazon Customer
  • 11-08-20

Interesting story

it's interesting, but a bit odd. I wouldn't say it was my favourite book but it's entertaining.

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  • Anonymous User
  • 06-29-18

loved every minute of it!

Love this story so much. Julian Rhind- Tutt does a splendid job in bringing it to life!

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  • Anonymous User
  • 07-21-17

A Soviet Harry Potter

Didn't love the Pontius Pilate storyline, but everything else was brilliant. The idea of the world of the Soviet Union meeting with black magic is wonderfully realized, and highly entertaining.

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  • Cari Spengler
  • 04-09-16

Fantastic!

I loved everything about it. From the story to the narration, everything was perfect.

In fact, I'm going to listen to it again right now.