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.
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.