Michail Bulgakov – Mästaren och Margarita

English title: The Master and Margarita
Swedish title: Mästaren och Margarita
Original title: Мастер и Маргарита
Author: Michail Bulgakov
Translator: Lars Erik Blomqvist
Year: 1967

I do not hesitate to give books a grade close to perfection, like four or possibly four and a half snails if the novel truly deserves it. However, I tend to be very meticulous in my choice of books worthy of five snails and I have hitherto only awarded eleven fives out of roughly 300 novels. The Master and Margarita is the twelfth.

This fantastic story takes place in Moscow sometime around the 1930s. Woland, a magician with strange and dark powers, arrives in the city, and corruption, calamity and bewilderment follows in his wake. Soon (almost from the start, so this is not really a spoiler) it becomes clear that it is no other than Satan himself who has come to wreak havoc on capital of the Soviet Union. Many people are pulled into the chaos, but an author simply called “the Master” is among the more prominent one. A novel of his concerns the life of Pontius Pilate around the trial and execution of Jesus, and parts of Bulgakov’s novel is written as excerpts from the Master’s narration.

I truly adore some of the characters in this book, especially some of Woland’s companions. The cat, Behemoth, with his fancy for guns, chess and marinated mushrooms, is a favourite. This is not to say that the other members of Woland’s retinue are not fantastic, of course.

What is so astoundingly good with this novel is not the story itself, albeit it that it is satisfying as well. Instead, the language usage and the style are what really enraptures me and make me unable to quit reading at times (if I would not have been so busy with studying, I would probably have finished The Master and Margarita in no time). In some way, the style is reminiscent of that of Gabriel García Márquez in his fantastic book One Hundred Years of Loneliness (review in Swedish), especially when it comes to the blending of fairly trivial narration and absolutely bizarre events. Of course, I cannot comment on the original, but the Swedish translation is an excellent piece of writing and inspires me greatly.

As is customary, I shall conclude by a comment on recommendations. This is a book I recommend to everyone, without hesitation, because it has everything a good novel needs. Not only is it brilliantly written and narrated, but it also covers interesting themes of a broad variety (love, the struggle between good and evil, as well as satiric comments on society). I found all different aspects of this novel entertaining and awe-inspiring, but I am sure that even if you might not find all of them attractive, there will be something in this novel that makes it worth reading it anyway.

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  1. Improve’s avatar

    Bulgakov has been a long time on my must-read list. This might put him up a few positions. Are you familiar with the other great russian authors and how would you compare him to them?

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  2. Olle Linge’s avatar

    Regrettably, I have not read much written by Russian authors, especially not by the truly famous ones. I recently reviewed Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s A Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, which I also enjoyed, albeit for entirely different reasons. I do not think I would be so taken in my older Russian writers like Tolstoy or Dostoevsky, but they are on my reading list anyway.

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  3. Svante’s avatar

    Just to nitpick: the Marquez novel is called “One Hundred Years of Solitude” in English.

    Other than that, I sincerily agree with Olle; Bulgakov’s novel is truly great. I have only read a few of the clasic Russian novels, and comparing Bulgakov to realists like Dostojevskij isn’t really relevant.

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  4. Olle Linge’s avatar

    Svante is of course right, both when it comes to the title and comparisons with naturalist writers. Sad to say, I have a feeling I will not enjoy them as much as enjoyed Bulgakov, mostly because naturalism does not appeal to me to any great extent.

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  5. Sebastian Wassberg’s avatar

    Håller med dig att boken var väldigt bra. Jag lyckades dock aldrig lista ut vad historien om Pontius Pilatus hade med något att göra. En åsikt som jag har hört drog paralleler mellan den förvirring som rådde i Moska under 1930-talet och den som rådde Jerusalem under jesu födelse. Det enda jag kan tänka mig så här i efterhand var en möjlig jämförelse hur människorna behandlar Satan resp. Guds son.

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  6. Martin’s avatar

    Här är min recension. Jag håller med om att boken är väldigt välskriven, både i karaktärer och händelseförlopp. Det som gör att jag inte ger den full pott är att den är för lång och i många fall för rörig.

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