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The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov

The Master and Margarita (original 1966; edition 1996)

by Mikhail Bulgakov, Diana Burgin (Translator), Katherine Tiernan O'Connor (Translator)

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12,158272207 (4.26)5 / 762
Title:The Master and Margarita
Authors:Mikhail Bulgakov
Other authors:Diana Burgin (Translator), Katherine Tiernan O'Connor (Translator)
Info:Vintage (1996), Paperback, 384 pages
Collections:Your library

Work details

The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov (1966)

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English (235)  Italian (11)  French (9)  Finnish (4)  Dutch (3)  Swedish (2)  Spanish (2)  German (2)  Catalan (1)  Hebrew (1)  Czech (1)  Portuguese (1)  All languages (272)
Showing 1-5 of 235 (next | show all)
Michael Glenny translation; Vintage Classics edition with introduction by Will Self

Bit underwhelmed. It was a good and original adventure, sometimes made me laugh, and I was always interested to find out what would happen. But, other than a few chapters, not wow. Not quite understanding what so many adore.

And this is one of the first books I remember. It was quite low down on family bookshelves when I was a child, and its spine (of the first UK hardback edition) is one of the very few things I can remember seeing without being able to read it, its colours and shape only, and then the words soon became words. I long thought of 'The master and margarita' as one person, that they were two titles held by one person, a margarita probably being some form of exotic aristocracy. (A sophy was one after all.) Kids read so much about royalty, so it's hardly surprising to overidentify it. The book always sounded a bit boring and I thought it would have been a chore to read. Hence taking several decades to get round to reading it.

In the same translation, naturally, as it would have been had I read that copy as a teenager, but not dusty and sneeze-prone. (And with a very good introduction by Will Self, which I already quoted elsewhere months ago. Its influence on his writing and, I think on Gaiman, is evident. In that respect reading The Master & Margarita is like finding a missing link.) I find it strange how few people seek out a particular translation for similar personal reasons. I also compared it with the preview of Pevear & Volokhonsky, the only other translation easily available in the UK, and needless to say much preferred this one. I find P&V's style ugly and am trying to confine my use of them to Tolstoy so other Russian writers have a different voice. And I infinitely prefer the Britishness of 'beer & minerals', 'lime trees' and ' the haunted flat' to Americanisms. Patriarch's Ponds, despite the thoroughly un British name, I kept imagining as an English park, such was Glenny's use of detail and atmosphere. But one of my reasons for reading this version is to read what British people read in the 60s and 70s, and many others still later - the book as part of our culture, more than for its historically displaced Russianness (written in the late 30s and not published there in full until Gorbachev). So glad that Michael Glenny is related to Misha Glenny - father and son, in fact - who's the first person I'd think of when seeing 'M. Glenny', never mind in the context of Russia.

Episodes I loved:
Most of all, Margarita's flight. There is such a lightness and abandon in the writing as soon as she has put on the (not named as such) flying ointment. It is all 'wheeee!' and Peter Pannish mischief and no quibbling. (She's Peter, not that tutting Wendy.) Utterly carried me along with her. Similarly, the party.
The master and his basement flat. Needless to say, this also reminds me deeply of someone - about whom I felt much as Margarita does about him. And it has stronger atmosphere than much of the rest. I used to have a basement flat too. Some people think they are depressing, but as long as they are not damp they are wonderful little burrow-refuges which have the sense of being sequestered from the world just as M&M and he and I both desired.

I think I've read enough iconoclastic retellings of the Bible. Wasn't all that interested in those chapters - I liked and appreciated the characterisations, but it was all so long.

The final sentence of the blurb, on the back of this Vintage Classics edition, is silly: Only the Master... and Margarita...can resist his onslaught. Makes them sound like superheroes, and gives an impression of the story's trajectory very different from the actual one.

What I want to read now are a few scholarly analyses. There is great ambiguity about the devil - he is a force which is both contrary to and in agreement with the Communist authorities; he is not harmful to everyone, although he is to many. 'Woland' vaguely suggests 'Woden' and the devil as merely one of the old gods - but otherwise this Satan exists in a Christian cosmology. Bulgakov seems to suggest another way between pure rationalist atheism (arguing against an atheist state and its enforcement... I can't imagine hardcore Dawkins fans loving this, those who still think even the moderately religious should be considered mad, and don't seemed to have pondered their similarity to the Soviets) and the traditional theocracy with its strict views and notions of heresy. As a general idea this is so familiar and acceptable to me there's no need to say it - but it's also done in an odd way I can't quite get my head round, so I may be missing something. Or maybe I just read it when I was too old, and had already met a lot of the ideas via other, later, sources; there's no doubt it would seem amazing and revolutionary in some contexts, historical or in a person's life. ( )
  antonomasia | Mar 1, 2015 |
A bit of a head trip that requires some background on the author's political situation in the USSR and the overall period, but certainly original, lyrical, visual and unforgettable. Worth reading a second time. ( )
  milocross | Jan 6, 2015 |
>26 >27 Thanks to you both!

#2 Finished last night-- [The Master and Margarita]. I can't find the right touchstone for this, but just looking at the list on offer gives me an inkling as to why I put off reading this for so long--there are commentaries, adaptations, keys to reading and so on that make this funny, playful book seem more intimidating than it really is. Yes, it's a satire of Stalinist Russia, but you can enjoy it without necessarily understanding the precise targets.

What happens when the Devil comes to town? Two intellectuals arguing about Pontius Pilate in a park in Moscow are the first to find out, with disastrous, and absurd, results. The chaos continues as the devil presents himself as a (black) magician at a theatre: his show involves offering to trade the women in the audience's normal clothing for expensive evening dresses--but these disappear, as do the fistfuls of money the Devil and his henchmen hand out.

This exposure of human greed and weakness is a continuous theme throughout the book. The main part of the story of the Devil, his victims, and the story of the lovers, the Master and Margarita, is threaded through with the tale of Pontius Pilate and his anguish at sentencing the Philosopher to death when he really just wants to talk to him; this tale begins as a novel by the Master but eventually becomes a part of the main plot. In both threads, human greed and weakness are offset by love which the Devil seems indifferent to, but which still works as a force in the world.

The tone of the book moves from silly slapstick and absurd excess at the beginning to a dreamlike and spare beauty at the end. A wonderful book! ( )
  ipsoivan | Jan 5, 2015 |
I can't begin to do justice to this magnificently surreal modern fairy tale - a rare example of a book that more than matches up to the hype, and a candidate for my favourite book. I'll leave the detailed description to those with more perception and literary talent. ( )
  bodachliath | Nov 11, 2014 |
Now I know how the Krakow bookshop 'Massolit' got its name! Anyway, I knew so little about the plot of The Master and Margarita that I was able to let it wash over me, and even now, several months later, I can say that many of the most important events are as fresh as they were on first reading - the sign of a true classic. ( )
  soylentgreen23 | Nov 8, 2014 |
Showing 1-5 of 235 (next | show all)
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» Add other authors (137 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Bulgakov, Mikhailprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Aplin, HughTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Arcella, SalvatoreTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Blomqvist, Lars ErikTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Burgin, DianaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Dridso, VeraTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Dvořák, LiborTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Figes, OrlandoIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Flamant, FrançoiseTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Fondse, MarkoTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Fondse, MarkoAfterwordsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Ginsburg, MirraTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Glenny, MichaelTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Goldstrom, RobertCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Heino, Ulla-LiisaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Hoppe, FelicitasAfterwordsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Karpelson, MichaelTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Nitzberg, AlexanderTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
O'Connor, Katherine TiernanTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Pevear, RichardTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Proffer, EllendeaAfterwordsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Reschke, ThomasÜbersetzersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Skalaki, KrystynaCover designersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Volokhonsky, LarissaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
קריקסונוב, פטרTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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...and so who are
you, after all?

—I am part of the power
which forever wills evil
and forever works good.

Goethe's Faust
‘Say at last — who art thou?’

‘That Power I serve
Which wills forever evil
Yet does forever good.’

Goethe, Faust
...Так кто ж ты, наконец?

— Я — часть той силы,
что вечно хочет
зла и вечно совершает благо.

Гете. “Фауст”
First words
One hot spring evening, just as the sun was going down, two men appeared at Patriarch’s Ponds.
At the sunset hour of one warm spring day two men were to be seen at Patriarch’s Ponds.
Однажды весною, в час небывало жаркого заката, в Москве, на Патриарших
прудах, появились два гражданина.
Op een broeihete lentedag daagden omtrent zonsondergang twee burgers op in het park rond de Patriarchvijver.
...manuscripts don’t burn.
Рукописи не горят.
Les manuscrits ne brûlent pas.
what would your good do if evil didn't exist, and what would the earth look like if all the shadows disappeared?
Last words
(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
Disambiguation notice
Publisher's editors
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Original language

References to this work on external resources.

Wikipedia in English (6)

Book description
In this book, the devil and his entourage, which includes two demons, a naked girl and a huge cigar-smoking black cat who talks, walks upright and is a crack shot with a Mauser automatic, appear in Moscow. They wreak anarchy & havoc on the people.
Haiku summary

Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0679760806, Paperback)

Surely no stranger work exists in the annals of protest literature than The Master and Margarita. Written during the Soviet crackdown of the 1930s, when Mikhail Bulgakov's works were effectively banned, it wraps its anti-Stalinist message in a complex allegory of good and evil. Or would that be the other way around? The book's chief character is Satan, who appears in the guise of a foreigner and self-proclaimed black magician named Woland. Accompanied by a talking black tomcat and a "translator" wearing a jockey's cap and cracked pince-nez, Woland wreaks havoc throughout literary Moscow. First he predicts that the head of noted editor Berlioz will be cut off; when it is, he appropriates Berlioz's apartment. (A puzzled relative receives the following telegram: "Have just been run over by streetcar at Patriarch's Ponds funeral Friday three afternoon come Berlioz.") Woland and his minions transport one bureaucrat to Yalta, make another one disappear entirely except for his suit, and frighten several others so badly that they end up in a psychiatric hospital. In fact, it seems half of Moscow shows up in the bin, demanding to be placed in a locked cell for protection.

Meanwhile, a few doors down in the hospital lives the true object of Woland's visit: the author of an unpublished novel about Pontius Pilate. This Master--as he calls himself--has been driven mad by rejection, broken not only by editors' harsh criticism of his novel but, Bulgakov suggests, by political persecution as well. Yet Pilate's story becomes a kind of parallel narrative, appearing in different forms throughout Bulgakov's novel: as a manuscript read by the Master's indefatigable love, Margarita, as a scene dreamed by the poet--and fellow lunatic--Ivan Homeless, and even as a story told by Woland himself. Since we see this narrative from so many different points of view, who is truly its author? Given that the Master's novel and this one end the same way, are they in fact the same book? These are only a few of the many questions Bulgakov provokes, in a novel that reads like a set of infinitely nested Russian dolls: inside one narrative there is another, and then another, and yet another. His devil is not only entertaining, he is necessary: "What would your good be doing if there were no evil, and what would the earth look like if shadows disappeared from it?"

Unsurprisingly--in view of its frequent, scarcely disguised references to interrogation and terror--Bulgakov's masterwork was not published until 1967, almost three decades after his death. Yet one wonders if the world was really ready for this book in the late 1930s, if, indeed, we are ready for it now. Shocking, touching, and scathingly funny, it is a novel like no other. Woland may reattach heads or produce 10-ruble notes from the air, but Bulgakov proves the true magician here. The Master and Margarita is a different book each time it is opened. --Mary Park

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 14:29:02 -0400)

(see all 7 descriptions)

The novel's vision of Soviet life in the 1930s is so ferociously accurate that it could not be published during its author's lifetime and appeared only in a censored edition in the 1960s. Its truths are so enduring that its language has become part of the common Russian speech. One hot spring, the devil arrives in Moscow, accompanied by a retinue that includes a beautiful naked witch and an immense talking black cat with a fondness for chess and vodka. The visitors quickly wreak havoc in a city that refuses to believe in either God or Satan. But they also bring peace to two unhappy Muscovites: one is the Master, a writer pilloried for daring to write a novel about Christ and Pontius Pilate; the other is Margarita, who loves the Master so deeply that she is willing literally to go to hell for him.… (more)

(summary from another edition)

» see all 12 descriptions

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