We've got a thread for him, but none for this book. And I had this sort-of review thingy sitting somewhere that I hadn't posted here, so...
Pleased to meet you, hope you guess my name
Jerusalem, good Friday 33 AD, around tea time. Three men are nailed to one cross each. None of them is named Bar-Abba; he's been released at the expense of the third.
Moscow, May 193X AD, dusk. Three men meet at a park bench. None of them is named Lucifer, that doesn't mean he's not around.
London, June 1968 AD, probably not very early in the morning. Three men enter a recording studio to record a new song. None of them is named Brian Jones; he's on his way to a swimming pool.
Somehow all of that happens here. And more. Bulgakov writes in two worlds at the same time; he describes how... yeah, you know who, the guy with the pointy beard and the firey eyes, turns up in Moscow.
Please allow me to introduce myself
I'm a man of wealth and taste
"Professor Woland", that's what he calls himself - his real name having been abolished by the party, which of course means he doesn't exist - and his more or less mad aides turn the well-ordered socialist paradise upside down. The result is one of the funniest and most vicious pieces of satire ever written; the forces of evil are loosed upon a society that believes that it's gotten rid of them. Lines form outside the mental hospitals, the cops don't know whom to arrest anymore and no one's safe. Every hypocrite is pulled up, roots and all, and hung out to dry. And it becomes very hard not to sympathize with... you know, the guy who's supposed to be on the wrong side.
But at the same time, Bulgakov weaves in the other story as well. The story of a lone, scrawny Hebrew with no following, no ambition to lead anyone or anything, sentenced to die by a reluctant judge at the insistance of a mysterious guest. A revolution founded on a misunderstanding, much too zealous followers and a shadow figure with a plan. And while Jeshua dies on the cross with no famous last words, Moscow descends into mass hysteria and Mick Jagger works himself all the way up into a falsettoed frenzy
Tell me baby, what's my name?
Tell me honey, can you guess my name?
Tell you one thing, you're to blame!
the boundaries between Bulgakov's worlds become undone and we meet the storyteller. The Master. The one who's behind it all - and he's just a man, like the rest of us. The book describes how it itself is burned because no one wants to publish it (it wasn't published in the Soviet union until 33 years after Bulgakov's death) but manuscripts don't burn.
No rest for the wicked. "The Master And Margarita" hasn't had an easy life. In the Soviet of the 30s the mere mention of... you know, the one on the cross and the one with the pitchfork, was too controversial. As I write this, the Russian church has condemned the new movie adaptation on the book for the same, except opposite, reasons. The book has always been fired upon from both sides.
But Bulgakov had seen trenches and purges. He knew full well that we don't need anyone with cloven hooves to excuse the evil that men do.
I shouted out "Who killed the Kennedys?!?"
When after all it was you and me...
Shortly after "The Master And Margarita" was as finished as it would ever be, Europe imploded. Somehow Bulgakov manages to capture in 376 pages everything that went and would go wrong with the 20th century; madness, paranoia, xenophobia, holier-than-thou attitudes - and he does it with equal parts poison and love. I don't know if Bulgakov himself meant that we're alone here or that we're not, and which would be the most frightening alternative. But there's some solace in the fact that in the novel, everyone lives happily ever after. Well, OK, except for the ones who die or go insane, but they never have an easy time.
Whoo Whoo! Whoo Whoo!