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The Master and Margarita

Surely no stranger work exists in the annals of protest literature than The Master and Margarita . Written during the Soviet crackdown of the 1930s, when Mikhail Bulgakov's works were effectively banned, it wraps its anti-Stalinist message in a complex allegory of good and evil. Or would that be the other way around? The book's chief character is Satan, who appears in the guise of a foreigner and self-proclaimed black magician named Woland. Accompanied by a talking black tomcat and a "translator" wearing a jockey's cap and cracked pince-nez, Woland wreaks havoc throughout literary Moscow . First he predicts that the head of noted editor Berlioz will be cut off; when it is, he appropriates Berlioz's apartment. (A puzzled relative receives the following telegram: "Have just been run over by streetcar at Patriarch's Ponds funeral Friday three afternoon come Berlioz.") Woland and his minions transport one bureaucrat to Yalta , make another one disappear entirely except for his suit, and frighten several others so badly that they end up in a psychiatric hospital. In fact, it seems half of Moscow shows up in the bin, demanding to be placed in a locked cell for protection.

Meanwhile, a few doors down in the hospital lives the true object of Woland's visit: the author of an unpublished novel about Pontius Pilate. This Master-as he calls himself - has been driven mad by rejection, broken not only by editors' harsh criticism of his novel but, Bulgakov suggests, by political persecution as well. Yet Pilate's story becomes a kind of parallel narrative, appearing in different forms throughout Bulgakov's novel: as a manuscript read by the Master's indefatigable love, Margarita, as a scene dreamed by the poet-and fellow lunatic-Ivan Homeless, and even as a story told by Woland himself. Since we see this narrative from so many different points of view, who is truly its author? Given that the Master's novel and this one end the same way, are they in fact the same book? These are only a few of the many questions Bulgakov provokes, in a novel that reads like a set of infinitely nested Russian dolls: inside one narrative there is another, and then another, and yet another. His devil is not only entertaining, he is necessary : "What would your good be doing if there were no evil, and what would the earth look like if shadows disappeared from it?"

Unsurprisingly - in view of its frequent, scarcely disguised references to interrogation and terror - Bulgakov's masterwork was not published until 1967, almost three decades after his death. Yet one wonders if the world was really ready for this book in the late 1930s, if, indeed, we are ready for it now. Shocking, touching, and scathingly funny, it is a novel like no other. Woland may reattach heads or produce 10-ruble notes from the air, but Bulgakov proves the true magician here. The Master and Margarita is a different book each time it is opened

Famous catch-phrases

  • "Manuscripts do not burn" The Master and Margarita
  • "There is no such thing as second-grade freshness" The Master and Margarita
  • "I'm just sitting here, not touching anybody, fixing the primus" The Master and Margarita

A few places of Bulgakov's Moscow

"Bad Flat" No.50 at B.Sadovaya 302 bis, in which parts of the novel are set - there was never any building with such a big number in Moscow - prototype is Big Sadovaya, 10, flat No.34 (where Bulgakov lived for some time), since the 1980s has become a gathering spot for Bulgakov's fans, as well as Moscow-based Satanist groups, and had various kinds of graffiti scrawled on the walls. The numerous paintings, quips, and drawings were completely whitewashed in 2003. Previously the best drawings were kept as the walls were repainted, so that several layers of different colored paints could be seen around the best drawings. The building's residents, in an attempt to deter loitering, are currently attempting to turn the flat into a museum of Bulgakov 's life and works. To date, they have had trouble contacting the flat's anonymous owner.

Patriarshi ponds, the place from where the plot started with mistical accident, is also not far from "bad flat" - at M. Bronnaya st. (by the way, there were no any tram rails there in no time)

Variety Theater - now it is the Theatre of Satire, new adress - Triumphalnaya sq., 2 (not far from "bad flat")

MASSOLIT (Literature organisation) - Tverskoy bul., 25 (building of former RAPP and MAPP - "association of proletarian writers")

Pashkov's House - the architectural ensemble in 20, Mokhovaya Street , which is on the Vagankov Hill just opposite the Kremlin and where Voland parted with the city.

Spaso House, the official residence of U.S. Ambassador, splendid mansion in the Arbat at 10 Spasopeskovskaya Square.

For Cristmas party 1934 a celebrated ball was hosted by William Bullit, the first U.S. ambassador to the Soviet Union. At that time, some protocol liberties were tolerated, for instance, animals from the zoo or the circus could be hired. The Ambassador William Bullitt presented the invited guests with an unbelievable surprise: the upper lights went out, and the attendees saw three big black sea lions crawl from the bathroom into the reception hall. One of them was holding on its nose a little Christmas tree, while skillfully balancing it, the other held a tray with glasses and the third a bottle of champagne. Then they tossed balls at each other and played accordions.

One more significant event, this time without a tinge of scandal, though, was a soiree in the new dancing hall where Sergey Prokofiev's opera The Love for Three Oranges was performed, the conductor being the great composer in person. Mikhail Bulgakov attended one of the receptions. The sumptuous White Room with a chandelier impressed him so strongly that he laid the famous scenes of the ball at Messire Voland exactly at this place.

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