Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Book Review: The Master and Margarita, by Mikhail Bulgakov

The Master and MargaritaThe Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

"There is not a single Eastern religion, where an immaculate virgin does not...bring forth a god into this world. And the Christians, displaying no originality whatsoever, followed the same pattern when they created their Jesus, who in fact, never existed at all."

These are the words of Berlioz to Bezdomny in the opening paragraphs of Mikhail Bulgakov's "The Master and Margarita". It's deceptively simple, words of cold rationalism that could begin any number of novels or textbooks set to showcase the the superiority of atheism, and to point out the ridiculousness of faith. And indeed it seems that way at the start, as Berlioz is meeting Bezdomny in a public park to discuss his displeasure at Bezdomny's draft of an anti-religous poem commissioned to be written on Jesus Christ. Bezdomny has treated Jesus as a real historical, albeit humanly flawed figure, in the poem, and Berlioz is determined to set the record straight--there was never any Jesus.

Enter Satan.

Now one would expect Satan to be someone reasonably satisfied with a 1920's Soviet Russia that does not believe in or accept anyone believing in God. The lack of belief deprives not only God of attentions, however, but it deprives Satan as well. Now, what could possibly happen to a city of Athiests when Satan pays a visit?

Regardless of one's personal beliefs about religion and reason there is a wicked glee one takes in the havoc wreaked upon the steadfastly reasonable and orderly 1920's Moscow. Apartments are trashed, a theater in disarray, the insane asylum begins to fill up, as the devil in the guise of a dark stranger named Woland, and his minions--a demon, a naked witch, and Behemoth, (quite possibly the coolest feline character in literary history) march through town. Surreal imagery, shocking sudden violence, biting satire, and even slapstick, fill these portions of the novel, never slowing down, never letting you go.

This isn't the only storyline, however, we are introduced to the tender romance between the title characters. The broken, addle-brained Master and the fiercely devoted Margarita who fears not even the furthest depths of Hell if it would bring her lover back to her. We are also dropped into Bulgakov's novel within a novel, a stark, frank take upon the death of Jesus Christ and the torment of Pontius Pilate.

This is a novel that left me breathless and shaky upon the finish. My mind reeled with the philisophical and spiritual debate tangled in the words, and I found myself laughing at some of the more comic imagery in it. What an iconic novel, what a delight to read, I heartily recommend everyone to enrich their lives and pick up a copy of The Master and Margarita today!

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