Checking out the Classics: The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov

The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov is a Russian novel written between 1928 and 1940, and was initially published in the 1960s. I first read this book when I was 18, and after a few chapters I knew I had found my favourite novel. It’s still my favourite today.

Set in Moscow in the 1930s, the book has three main plotlines. One follows the antics of the visitor Woland (Satan) and his minions to the city, another follows the Margarita mentioned in the title, and the third is a sort of retelling of the crucifixion of Christ that was written by the master in the title after he won the lottery and was able to quit his job. This is a very basic description, but to go into any more detail would take too long and also lead to spoilers.

Twists and turns

The book is filled with a variety of characters and has plenty of twists and turns to keep you engrossed. While it can be tricky to keep track of all the characters (not unusual in Russian novels), each character is distinctive and all of the storylines are easy to follow. While it does satirise Soviet life, you do not need to know the history of the USSR to fully enjoy this book.

An easy read with fans the world over, The Master and Margarita is philosophical, hilarious, moving and utterly bizarre. There was a slight feeling that something might have been lost in translation from the original Russian, but that might also be from the unusual way the book is set out, switching between the three distinctive storylines, the minor storylines, and the characters themselves (How many books have vodka drinking, chess playing cats as characters?)

Highlighting the absurdity of Soviet life, questioning human freedom and the nature of good and evil, The Master and Margarita is a classic that other books are measured against. It has inspired many authors and was influential when Salman Rushdie wrote The Satanic Verses.

As I mentioned before, this is my favourite book and it would take something special to replace it. It won’t be liked by every reader, but I highly recommend it.

Have you read the book? What do you think? Let us know in the comments below!