The Master and Margarita

By Mikhail Bulgakov, Richard Pevear (translator), Larissa Volokhonsky (translator)

Book cover of The Master and Margarita

Book description

'Bulgakov is one of the greatest Russian writers, perhaps the greatest' Independent

Written in secret during the darkest days of Stalin's reign, The Master and Margarita became an overnight literary phenomenon when it was finally published it, signalling artistic freedom for Russians everywhere. Bulgakov's carnivalesque satire of Soviet life describes…

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Why read it?

8 authors picked The Master and Margarita as one of their favorite books. Why do they recommend it?

The devil arrives in Moscow with three companions—a pistol wielding cat, a female vampire, and a hit man. Together they wreak havoc. 

These days The Master and Margarita might be categorized as Magical Realism, but I don’t think the term does it justice. It is humorous, fantastical and modernist, sensual and absurdist, a love story, and a social satire. There is also a recurring philosophical theme, expressed by Pontius Pilate struggling with his guilt.

The Master and Margarita has an interesting provenance too. In a fit of depression over the futility of being an author in Soviet Russia, Bulgakov burned…

This is an astonishingly good read! A magical realism book initiated in the 1920s—long before the term had even been invented—by an author who risked his life to write it. 

Satan and his murderous crew breeze into 1930s Moscow with the intention of turning the place on its head. To give you some idea of what we’re dealing with here, one of Satan’s sidekicks is a talking cat the size of a fully-grown pig. Yeah! Now you’re interested! 

In his riotous novel, Bulgakov sets out to lampoon the Stalinist regime that he, along with millions of other Russians, was oppressed…

From Kevin's list on magical realism for escapists.

Moscow, 1930s. Satan comes to town with his mischief-making retinue, disrupting the smug, selfish Soviet bourgeoisie, playing wild, surreal tricks. Decapitated heads are (sometimes) put back on necks, shameful secrets exposed to public view, naked witches streak through the streets on flying pigs—chaos reigns. Meanwhile, two other independent plots emerge. First, the Master composes a brilliant but despised novel, and loves the beautiful Margarita. Secondly, the Bible story of Christ’s passion is vividly recreated, as seen by Pontius Pilate, a fallible man who realises that Christ is both innocent and exceptional, but is too weak to prevent his crucifixion:…

From Maya's list on breathe new life into old stories.

The searing soul of his characters is explored, from a talking black cat to witches, demons, and Pontius Pilate's dog. The blasted heath of the human mind is laid bare, and the reader transported to ancient, familiar realms. 

I am haunted by Bulgakov's tale and by himself, by all the spirits, demons, ghosts, and apparitions he somehow conjured here, and which have never ceased to live in my imagination since. I had never heard of the book, saw its dark spine on a bookshop shelf 20 years ago, and was lured over to it, drawn to the thick, heavy-inked pages.…

From John's list on spiritual freedom.

A masterpiece about a masterpiece. A story within the story which itself becomes the story. An allegory of Russian persecution, written by a Ukrainian, which, quite evidently, feels more important than ever, right now. A literary fiction about literary fiction. About the fears and rejection that all writers face, magnified a thousand times, under Soviet oppression. A talking tomcat, the devil, and petty adversaries who frequently get their comeuppance in fantastical, fairy-tale ways, which make the embedded narrative about Pontius Pilate and Jesus probably the most material aspect of a magical, mad journey. 

From Jonathan's list on fiction with Jesus as a character.

This was a complete mind-bender when I read it as a teenager, and it had lost none of its punch when I returned to it as an adult. It is writing like this that inspired me to become a writer. In this erudite and playful novel the devil, wearing an expensive gray suit and carrying a walking stick under one arm has come to visit Stalinist Moscow.

While telling of his dispute with Kant over the existence of God, he also casts light on exactly what took place between Pontius Pilate and a condemned man named Yeshua in ancient Jerusalem.…

From Donnally's list on fantasy that features the devil.

This is one of the most original books I remember reading in my life. It was written during the darkest days of Stalin’s reign and finally published in 1966 and 1967, when it quickly became a literary phenomenon, as it signaled artistic and spiritual freedom for Russians everywhere.

In this fantastical, funny, and devastating satire of Soviet life, Mikhail Bulgakov tells how one spring afternoon, the Devil, trailing fire and chaos in his wake, weaves himself out of the shadows and into Moscow. Although the novel is a bitter satire aimed at the Soviet repressive regime, it also explores…

This satirical Russian novel, completed in 1940 but not published until 1967—in Paris, due to Communist censorship—was something of a revelation for me when I first read it in my early twenties; having thus far only been exposed to Dostoevsky and Chekhov, I’d had no idea that a Russian novel could be so funny! Chief among The Master and Margarita’s comic delights (from this cat lover’s perspective, anyway) is the character of Behemoth—a preternaturally large and possibly demonic black cat who walks on his hind legs and speaks fluent Russian, and who excels at the quintessential Russian pastimes of…

From Gwen's list on with cats as characters.

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