Thursday, July 14, 2005

Review: The Master and Margarita

Picked up this book by Mikhail Bulgakov on a whim because I remembered that my little brother had recommended it a few years back. I had wandered into a bookstore to pre-order Harry Potter #6 -- nothing wrong with that -- and felt stupid walking out of a store with just a receipt. That and there was a picture of a cat on the cover.

It takes some time to get started and is a bit confusing because of the Russian patronymics, but it really does pull you in. The edition that I got was a newer translation from the Russian. The author, Bulgakov, is extremely popular now in that country, but his works were banned during his lifetime under the Communist regime.

I can't begin to explain this book, but the simple version is that the Devil comes to Moscow and very strange and gruesome things begin to happen. This is interwoven with a novel by The Master, who is writing about Pontius Pilate at a time when anything that is in any way religious is banned. While it sounds depressing, what emerges is an allegorical satire about life in the Soviet state that is laugh-out-loud funny at times. Fortunately the notes at the end are very thorough in explaining some discrepancies in the narrative and some of the name and word choices that the author makes.

Very highly recommended. In fact, it became my best friend's birthday present, to whom I always try to give the best book I've read that year. Hopefully she won't see this before she gets the package!

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