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A Guy's Moleskine Notebook

Thoughts and reflections on works of fiction and literature. Pondering of life through pictures and words. Babbling about gay rights. Travelogues and anecdotes.

  • [1] Annie Proulx: Brokeback Mountain
  • [2] Arthur Golden: Memoirs of a Geisha
  • [3] Yu Hua: To Live
  • [4] Alan Hollinghurst: The Line of Beauty
  • [5] Colm Toibin: The Master
  • [6] Carlos Ruiz Zafon: The Shadow of the Wind
  • [7] William James: The Varieties of Religious Experience
  • [8] Charles Higham: The Civilization of Angkor
  • [9] Graham Greene: A Burnt-Out Case
  • [10] Dai Sijie: Mr. Muo's Travelling Couch
  • [11] Alan Hollinghurst: The Swimming-Pool Library
  • [12] Mikhail Bulgakov: The Master and Margarita
  • [13] Colm Toibin: The Blackwater Lightship
  • [14] Alan Hollinghurst: The Folding Star
  • [15] Ross King: Michelangelo and the Pope's Ceiling
  • [16] Fyodor Dostoevsky: The Brothers Karamazov
  • [17] Jonathan Franzen: The Corrections
  • [18] Colm Toibin: The Story of the Night
  • [19] John Banville: Shroud
  • [20] Leo Tolstoy: Resurrection
  • [21] Peter Hessler: River Town, Two Years on the Yangtze
  • [22] Ian McEwan: The Atonement
  • [24] Gabriel Garcia Marquez: Love in the Time of Cholera
  • [25] Ignacio Padilla: Shadow without a Name
  • [26] Umberto Eco: The Name of the Rose
  • [27] Richard Russo: Straight Man
  • [28] Fyodor Dostoevsky: Notes from Underground
  • [29] Alan Hollinghurst: The Spell
  • [30] Hermann Broch: The Death of Virgil
  • [31] James Baldwin: Giovanni's Room
  • [32] Ken Kesey: One Flew over the Cuckoo's Nest
  • [33] Xingjian Gao: One Man's Bible
  • [34] C. Jay Cox: Latter Days
  • [35] Harper Lee: To Kill A Mockingbird
  • [36] William Shakespeare: The Taming of the Shrew
  • [37] Daniel A. Helminiak: What The Bible Really Says about Homosexuality
  • [38] James Baldwin: Tell Me How Long the Train's Been Gone
  • [39] Kenji Yoshino: Covering - The Hidden Assault of Civil Rights
  • [40] Italo Calvino: If, On a Winter's Night A Traveler
  • [41] Arthur Phillips: The Egyptologist
  • [42] George Orwell: 1984
  • [43] Michael Warner: The Trouble with Normal: Sex, Politics, and Ethics of Queer Life
  • [44] Andrew Sullivan: Virtually Normal
  • [45] Henry James: The Wings of the Dove
  • [46] Jose Saramago: Blindness
  • [47] Umberto Eco: The Mysterious Flame of Queen Loana
  • [48] Dan Brown: Da Vinci Code
  • [49] Kazuo Ishiguro: Never Let Me Go
  • [50] Ken Follett: The Pillars of Earth
  • [51] Leo Tolstoy: War and Peace
  • [52] Michael Thomas Ford: Alec Baldwin Doesn't Like Me
  • [53] Jonathan Franzen: How To Be Alone
  • [54] Jonathan Lethem: The Fortress of Solitude
  • [55] Matthew Pearl: The Dante Club
  • [56] Zadie Smith: White Teeth
  • [57] Fyodor Dostoevsky: The Double
  • [58] Jose Saramago: The Double
  • [59] Andrew Holleran: Dancer from the Dance
  • [60] Heinrich von Kleist: The Marquise of O & Other Stories
  • [61] Andrew Holleran: In September, the Light Changes
  • [62] Tom Perrotta: Little Children
  • February 03, 2006


    [12] The Master and Margarita - Mikhail Bulgakov

    A review on my all-time favorite read in literature.

    Whether one believes or not: Satan disguises as a foreign magician, and along with his thrice-cursed assistants, penetrated a theater in Moscow with black magic and hypnotic tricks. The artiste, who has personally met Pontius Pilate, is believed to have hypnotized director of the theater and has then contrived to fling him out of Moscow. The whole of the city is occupied with impossible rumors and portion of truth that is embellished with the most luxuriant lies. One thing is for sure: the theater has had to be closed owing to the mysterious disappearance of its administration and all sorts of outrages which have taken place during the notorious séance of Professor Woland's black magic.

    The Master and Margarita is about Woland a.k.a. the Devil who weaves himself out of the shadow of the "other world" and into Moscow. This fantastical, humorous and yet devastating satire of Soviet life consists of two interwoven parts - one set in contemporary Moscow and the other in ancient Jerusalem at the time of Pilate. The Pilate story mainly focuses on his decision in sentencing Jesus Christ to death and the purging of his soul owing to fear and cowardice. The Moscow story impressively brims with imaginary and frightful characters, most importantly of which is an anonymous master who writes a novel about Pilate (in fact Satan has read the story and re-tells it) but is accused by literary critics of possessing illegal literature. Closely interwined with the master is Margarita, a woman who deserts her wealthy husband for the master and whose book has so inexorably absorbed her. She is willing to pawn her soul to the Devil in order to rescue the master from delirium. After all the sorceries and wonders by which she flies on a broom and destroys the apartment of the man who has rejected the master's novel and so ruined his life, she knows precisely it is Satan she is visiting. But the meeting does not frighten her in the least for the hope that she will manage to regain happiness and peace makes her fearless.

    While thousands of spectators, the whole staff of the theater and members of government commissions have seen this magician and almost everyone who encounters the eerie retinue is in an delirious state, it is no doubt that all these events begin with the gruesome death of Berlioz at the Patriarch's Ponds. The chairman of a Moscow literature organization has slipped off some sunflower oil spilled on a turnstile and tumbled under a tram-car, head severed, and the exact manner of whose death fortold by Woland at his encounter with Berlioz and Ivan Nikoaevich Homeless. Poor Ivan has tried to convince that Devil does not exist and under Berlioz's tutelage writes an anti-religious poem that negates Jesus' existence. Ironically it is this very non-existing one who dwells in the beheaded writer's apartment and to whom Margarita desposits her faith., and from whom seeks salvation and peace after she and the master have been robbed of everything in the normal reality of the world.

    In The Master and Margarita, through its unusual range, picking up of tone, and sometimes a parodying voice, Bulgakov produces a novel that is a theatrical rendering of the terrors of 1930s. He meticulously weighs the question of cowardice, guilt, and conscience in considering the fate of his hero and through audacious portrayal of Christ, Satan and Pilate. The Pilate story, which is also the story written by the master, passes through a succession of narrators and converges to the Mosocw scene at the end, when the fates of Pilate, the master, and Margarita are simultaneously determined. Their fates reflect Bulgakov's own conviction that cowardice being the worst of human vices - for it is impossible not to believe that the indomitable Margarita has tried, at the expense of forfeiting her soul and salvation, to think up the best future for the master. As for Pilate, he persistently felt the scruple of his conscience since Jesus, whose life if not for his damnable cowardice he could have spared knowing the guilt of other prisoners is more considerably burdened. All that is left to the procurator are wicked pains, incomprehensible anguish, and the piercing feeling that he has lost something irretrievable and all his belated attempts to make up for Jesus' loss are nothing but some petty, worthless and despicable deeds.

    The novel is meant to educate, and to guide one of a state of enlightment in which the demarcation of humanity into good and evil is no longer useful and the transcendence of the need for retribution is the goal. The characters eventually are brought to see beyond apparent identity to the real identity, and to understand that Woland and Jesus being the same message. On top of the philosophical depth in redemption and death, the novel bespeaks details from Bulgakov's own life and a more personal tone in the satire of Woland and the retinue versus the literary powers. The normality of Soviet life is imposed from the very beginning, at the expense of the poet Ivan Homeless, who remains throughout the book and appears at each pivotal turn of the novel, especially when parable merges with normal reality.


    Blogger Greg said...

    I've been debating about buying this one; the story synposis intrigued me when I found it at the bookstore. I think that now I will defintiely purchase it. thanks for the review!

    2/16/2006 10:36 AM  
    Anonymous Anonymous said...

    May I be so bald to introduce to you a new website, solely devoted to Mikhail Bulgakov’s novel “The Master and Margarita”. You can find it on

    I wish you a nice weekend,

    Jan Vanhellemont

    9/21/2007 6:10 AM  

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