Title: The Master & Margarita
Author: Mikhail Bulgakov
Translators: Richard Pevear & Larissa Volokhonsky
Genre: Modern Russian Classic
Rating: 2 of 5
A subtitle to this review could be: “What did I just read?” This is one of those books where I have to wonder if some of its critical acclaim doesn’t come from the “I didn’t understand half of what was going on but it sounded so deep!” factor. The book mixes together historical fiction, magical realism, and romance to tell the intertwined stories of Pontius Pilate’s interaction with Jesus and Satan visiting Soviet era Moscow with his entourage (complete with gun-wielding talking cat). I’d probably have to read the book another time or two to fully understand how the stories play off each other, but I didn’t enjoy it enough to do so any time soon.
The aspect of the book that I enjoyed most was the social commentary. I’m not sure how Bulgakov managed to publish this without ending up “disappeared” or in the gulag. He points out the absurdity of atheism (or at least anti-supernaturalism), the housing shortage, censorship of literature, the greed and privilege of the rich, the climate of silence surrounding arrests and disappearances, cowardice (especially cowardice), and more, but he does it all in a light humorous tone.
Some of the antics of Satan’s associates are entertaining as they expose the nastiness in society, but the overall portrayal of spiritual issues and characters in the book twisted them from their biblical portrayal so much that it irked me. Given the central position of Jesus Christ the Son of God in my worldview, I have a hard time appreciating a book that portrays him as a slightly loony, naively optimistic travelling philosopher of illegitimate birth while playing the devil as a clear-sighted cynic capable of giving people true peace.
6 thoughts on “The Devil Went Down to Moscow”
With that last paragraph, you convinced me not to read it. I’ve got other books I can waste my time on 😀
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I totally missed how P.Pilot and Soviet Satan had intertwining stories…I apparently missed that day at camp. O.o
When was this published?
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It’s about 50 years old, and the whole Pilate and Soviet Satan connection was shamefully missing from my theology degree programs as well.
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hmm I can’t decide whether to read this- on the one hand it sounds weird… on the other I’m trying to learn more about this dark period of Russian history. I’ll put this on the maybe list.
The Master and Margarita is one of my favourite books. I did laugh, though, when you said, ‘What did I just read?’ It reminded me of when I was watching the film ‘Eraserhead’ on t.v. – it was so surreal that I didn’t know what was going on and yet I was fascinated by it and unable to turn it off. 😀