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?

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

I went back to this classic recently after a gap of many years and loved it even more. This is a serious philosophical novel that is also a grimly funny satire on Stalinist Russia. It was published long after the author's death.

The devil, posing as a stage magician, comes to Moscow, accompanied by various demonic minions, and proves to be more dangerous than any politician. People don’t believe in him, which leaves him free to create havoc, especially among the literary elite.

The mayhem includes such gems as bureaucrats being transformed into empty suits and the staff of the…

Bulgakov wrote this book in the Soviet Union under Stalin. Mystery, magic, satanic forces, and heavenly interventions, this book is a love story where anything can and does happen. It is a spellbinding read.

I found it funny and frightening, philosophical and fantastic. I couldn’t put it down!

People who read The Master and Margarita will tell you that it is one of the greatest books they have ever read, but few can tell you why. It defies description.  It is truly unique. 

It opens on a blistering hot day in Moscow, a paradox in itself. The devil, seemingly out of Goethe’s Faust, is on a visit to the town. He and his strange entourage would be laughable, if they were not so lethal. Only the madness of Stalin’s paranoid Communism could have created such a story.

Bulgakov has an uncanny way of investing even the most unlikely…

Shahrazad's Gift

By Gretchen McCullough,

Book cover of Shahrazad's Gift

Gretchen McCullough Author Of Shahrazad's Gift

New book alert!

Why am I passionate about this?

I am a fiction writer and currently live in Cairo, where I have lived for over twenty years. I noticed that the way I started telling stories was influenced by learning Arabic and by listening to the stories of the people in the city. My interest in Arabic also led me to read Arabic literature, like A Thousand and One Nights.   

Gretchen's book list on books influenced by Thousand and One Nights

What is my book about?

Shahrazad’s Gift is a collection of linked short stories set in contemporary Cairo — magical, absurd, and humorous.

The author focuses on the off-beat, little-known stories, far from CNN news: a Swedish belly dancer who taps into the Oriental fantasies of her clientele; a Japanese woman studying Arabic, driven mad by the noise and chaos of the city; a frustrated Egyptian housewife who becomes obsessed by the activities of her Western gay neighbor; an American journalist who covered the civil war in Beirut who finds friendship with her Egyptian dentist. We also meet the two protagonists of McCullough's Confessions of a Knight Errant, before their escapades in that story.

These stories are told in the tradition of A Thousand and One Nights.

Shahrazad's Gift

By Gretchen McCullough,

What is this book about?

Shahrazad's Gift is a collection of linked short stories set in contemporary Cairo-magical, absurd and humorous. The author focuses on the off-beat, little-known stories, far from CNN news: a Swedish belly dancer who taps into the Oriental fantasies of her clientele; a Japanese woman studying Arabic, driven mad by the noise and chaos of the city; a frustrated Egyptian housewife who becomes obsessed by the activities of her Western gay neighbor; an American journalist who covered the civil war in Beirut who finds friendship with her Egyptian dentist. We also meet the two protagonists of McCullough's Confessions of a Knight…


The Master and Margarita by Bulgakov is one of my favorite pieces of Russian writing.

Encapsulating the, often deadly, absurdity of life during the 50’s Soviet system and how it is not less than the devil’s musings and doings, the story still, excellently evokes notions of hope, love, comedy, tragedy, and learning within this setting.

What still remains with me is the vivid richness in description and characters. In my words, Bulgakov and specifically The Master and Margarita are to literature what Tarantino is to cinema and films.

From Robert's list on understanding life.

An undeniably genius work of fiction.

I have read it over and over again and every time, I rediscover the book and uncover new meanings, as if I have never read this book before.

I cannot say that I agree with every value and principle expressed in the book, but I absolutely love the way Bulgakov mashed up light and darkness, goodness and evil, wisdom and insanity in a whirlwind of colours, making you question the “badness” of one and the “goodness” of the other.

It is a liberating take on the “dark side” and hence it closes the list.

From Kristina's list on personal growth and transformation.

I love this work by Bulgakov for its wild imagination and his mastery in utilizing magical realism as a means of discussing the politics of his time.

It’s a novel that really encapsulates a kind of nuance against duality that inspires me, a reminder that the things we consider black and white—good and evil, bravery and cowardice, right and wrong, love and lust—exist only within one another.

My favorite interpretation of Bulgakov’s reasons for writing it is that it was in response to the militant atheism of his time, not as a religious screed, but to bite back against iconoclastically…

From Leopoldo's list on reminding us that the past never dies.

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.

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