The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov

The Master and Margarita is a deeply philosophical and satirical story set in early 20th century Russia, with a strong connection to the story of Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection. As you can probably tell from that sentence, it’s not a very easy book to read.

The Master and Margarita

I definitely struggled with this one; somedays I would only read a couple of pages and I even took a break and read something else halfway in. This was not for lack of interesting plot points. In fact, it’s a tale full of magic and unbelievable situations as the Devil and his gang of demons wreak havoc in Moscow. But practically everything that happens is an allegory or a metaphor and is somehow related to what happened 2000 years ago in Jerusalem and the account of those events found in texts, both those accepted by the Church and apocryphal ones. Since I left school (where religion class was obligatory throughout), I have a rather loose relationship with religion so a lot of these subtle connections went over my head and made reading the book a bit of a chore. That is, until the second half when I discovered that the back of my copy had an appendix with notes on the major points of each chapter. This was extremely helpful and I felt less lost with it, which is why I’m beating myself up about not finding it earlier.

I don’t want it to seem like I thought that this book is entirely without merit. By the end, I was actually eager to see how things would turn out as, quite surprisingly, I found myself caring for the Master and Margarita. Bulgakov masterfully combines his ambitious storytelling with a strong sense of humour and, he is relentless in making a parody of the plagues of Russian life at the time, like the ridiculous levels of bureaucracy.

I just wish I had used the appendix from the start. I also think it would be nice if I had read the short biographical note in Bulgakov beforehand as it is interesting to see what his life, and health, was like when he wrote various parts of the book. Clearly, I was not properly prepared to read this book. So I urge you to not dismiss it because of my not-great experience with it, it’s actually not so bad.

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7 thoughts on “The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov

  1. Biblibio says:

    Okay, I know The Master and Margarita has its many layers and complexities and references and allegories, but even setting all those aside, it’s an intelligent, interesting, brilliant, magical book. I read it the first time without really trying to pick up on all the “extra” stuff, mostly just opting for the first level of understanding. And I was amazed. It’s one of my favorite books. I think part of the problem might be an overpreparation, if anything. Yes, the book has more relevance if you understand all the under-layers, but that doesn’t negate its surface (and it is a pretty brilliant surface if you think about it). If the reading becomes work, I can completely understand how someone might not like this book so much…

    • bookworm says:

      I don’t know, I didn’t think the basic story was that great. Until I started using the appendix it all just seemed random and strange to me.

  2. Charlie says:

    I’ve known this is a difficult book but hadn’t known why. I’ve had a decent religious education but even with that this book sounds pretty tough. Is there an overall reasoning for the comparisons and similarities, or is it more just a strict comparison? It does sound a great read, if overwhelming.

    • bookworm says:

      There’s a strong correlation between the story in 20th century Moscow and what happened in Jerusalem 2000 years ago. Bulgakov is actually brilliant because he constructed a story that is so parallel to Jesus’ well-known story, but that’s very cleverly concealed. Perhaps too concealed actually. Once I made that connection things became cleared, but it took me a while to get there. Maybe I’m just slow 😉

  3. Melinda says:

    I’ve been wanting to read this book forever! I even read a sample of it and it just confused me. It’s on my TBR List, but whether I will get to it soon, I dont know 😦

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