Let me admit up front that I could not have understood this novel without the introduction written by Orlando Figes that appears in the translation I purchased. Let me also suggest that if you decide to read The Master and Margarita that you read the introduction last. It’s much more fun to simply open the book and let its lunacy sweep you away.
Mikhail Bulgakov’s novel, published twenty-five years after his death, is about a band of Satanists who descend on Moscow and wreak havoc, particularly during a magic show. Their antics serve to bring out the worst in people. By the end of their mischief, Moscow is rife with rumors and confusion. The story, set in the 1930s, serves largely as a commentary on the repressive Stalin regime.
Central to the plot is a novel written by a character known as the Master, who tells his own version of Jesus’ trial and crucifixion. Many readers will find this passage blasphemous and upsetting, as I did. But it does retain the theme of redemption at the heart of Jesus’ ministry.
People unfamiliar with Russian literature may occasionally become confused by the character names, as they alternate between the family and given names. Be patient. The context of events keeps their identities clear.
It’s rare to find a novel so imaginative, hilarious and insightful into human nature. The Master and Margarita is a five-star masterpiece that I will certainly read again.