March is on its way out and maybe, just maybe, spring is coming. My boiler is busted and winds are rattling my walls, so it’s cold enough inside that it still feels like winter. Winter is a good physical state to read some angry Russian novels.
Mikhail Bulgakov’s The Master and Margarita is probably going to be on my #bestreads list at the end of the year. It’s a unique novel and excellent in too many ways, the greatest being that it somehow balances all those ways without losing them. It’s political and religious satire, it’s sincere literary soul searching, it’s mad-cap adventures. Its tone changes on the scene to feel like it’s bridging worlds usually separated by genre.
Since I have this whole wrap-up post to write about the book, I’d like to target the dumbest criticism I’ve read of it. I’ve jumped around Google to collect context for Bulgakov’s life and the culture he was tickling, and there are many sites that have a nub about the novel’s aim on Soviet Russia’s secularism. The Wikipedia entry mentioned:
“However, the attempt is ad absurdum – the novel shows the reality of evil and demonic powers in this world. And the resulting question is, "If those powers exist, and the world is run by Woland and his entourage, why does this world still exist?"”
It’s one of many little atheistic editorializations that never seem to get flagged or cleaned up on Wikipedia. This is a particularly stupid one, as having read fifty pages of the novel you know Woland’s agents wouldn’t destroy the world because they don’t spend all their time here and they enjoy its excesses. Woland visits us so seldom that he’s baffled (and then elated) that the Soviets disbelieve in him. And near the end, the devil speaks with a possible superior (guess who) who seems able to get him to change his actions for the kinder.
It’s unbecoming when a line on Wikipedia bothers me for weeks like that, but at least I can get that out of my system, just like Woland got earth out of his.
If I have a regret about the novel, it’s that I read it while writing so much of my own. Composition takes up so much of my mind that often I couldn’t pay The Master and Margarita proper attention and would hold it off to a weekend or a travel day. I read half of the novel on trains headed towards Waiting for Godot, and it was a delightful experience, but it felt like it deserved better. It’s definitely one I’ll revisit in multiple translations.
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