Good Reading : November 2015
In 1966, almost 30 years after the author’s death, the magazine Moskva published the first part of The Master and Margarita in its November issue. The book had circulated underground before surfacing into the public arena. Had it been discovered during Bulgakov’s lifetime, the author would probably have ‘disappeared’ like so many others – despite the dubious honor of being named as Stalin’s favorite playwright for a short period. The Master and Margarita has survived against the odds and is now recognised as one of the finest achievements in 20th-century Russian fiction. Sentences from the novel have become proverbs in Russian: ‘Manuscripts don’t burn’ and ‘Cowardice is the most terr ible of vices’ are words with a special resonance for the generations who endured Soviet totalitar ianism’s worst excesses. Its influence can be detected further afield – from Latin American magic realism to Rushdie, Pynchon, and even the Rolling Stones (‘Sympathy for the Devil’ is said to be inspired by Bulgakov). The novel is composed of two distinct but interconnected narratives. One is set in modern Moscow; the other in ancient Jerusalem. Into these Bulgakov inserts a cast of strange and otherworldly characters that includes Woland (Satan) and his demonic entourage, an unnamed writer known as ‘the master’, and his adulterous lover, Margarita. Each is a complex, morally ambiguous figure whose motivations fluctuate as the tale twists and turns in unexpected directions. The novel pulsates with mischievous energy and invention. By turns a searing satire of Soviet life, a religious allegory to rival Goethe’s Faust, and an untamed burlesque fantasy, this is a novel of laughter and terror, of freedom and bondage – a novel that blasts open ‘official truths’ with the force of a carnival out of control. 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die edited by Peter Boxall is published by Pier 9, rrp $39.99. OFF THE SHELF Some readers will always rush out to buy the latest book that publishers are breathlessly panting about, but other readers are more cautious, not wanting to waste their time reading duds that haven’t yet stood the test of time. 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die will help you to sort the masterpieces from the muck and make you the conversational hub of any literary salon. In this extract, we take a look at The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov. Lifespan | b. 1891 (Ukraine), d. 1940 (Russia) First Published | 1966, in Moskva journal First Published (Book) by | YMCA Press (Paris) Original Title | Master i Margarita Right: A poster for a performance based on Bulgakov’s masterpiece, staged in Moscow in 2000 on the 60th anniversary of his death. GOODREADINGMAGAZINE.COM.AU GOOD READING NOVEMBER 2015 14 The Master and Margarita Bulgakov’s Margarita, as represented in this painting by Serbian artist Gordana Jerosimic, is hauntingly mysterious and erotic.
December January 2016