Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Vladimir Shatsev: Magic in Your Soul

The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov:
The Magnificent Book about Magic in Your Soul

by Vladimir Shatsev

You can’t get this famous Russian book in Toronto libraries now.
Around 400 names are on the waiting list. I do not want to say that it is the only reason to buy this book; but anyway it is true that a great number of people are waiting to read it.
This is a sign of its importance.

It is a really great book that continues to grow in popularity in the Western World. The only book with which it might be compared is The 100 years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. An interviewer asked Marquez:"Have you read The Master and Margarita?" He answered: "I swear, I read this magnificent book only after I finished writing The 100 Years of Solitude".

Everybody remembers Mephisto, the sarcastic Devil who is full of irony and witty opinions. Here, in Bulgakov’s novel, Mephisto is called Woland. Woland, accompanied by his satanic train, arrives in Moscow during the 1930s. In the capital of Soviet Russia the King of Hell meets unbelievable corruption, bribery, denunciation, invisible power of the secret police, and total atheism. This combination of platitude, naivety, and hatred unto your neighbour amazes and irritates Woland. In this situation the Satan becomes not Evil, but Justice.

In this city there is a man who calls himself Master. Inspired by his lover Margarita, he has just finished writing a novel about Jesus Christ and Pontius Pilate. The pages of the Master’s manuscript with their deep philosophy delivered as a combination of the description of the Devil and his train, and their hilarious adventures in the capital of World Communism.

This book might be compared, on the one hand, with The Da Vinci Code with its revisiting of The New Testament and, on the other hand, as I mentioned before, with The 100 years of Solitude or any fairy story where a black magic superpower is magnanimous and kind. "When all is done we become the same thing that we are reading", said the Nobel Prize winning poet Joseph Brodsky.

This novel was and still is the Bible for most Russian intellectuals from the autumn of 1967 until today. You will be able to understand Russian people better because they have become the very images and ideas contained in this novel. Every unpublished writer or still not famous scientist might think he is a Master. A devoted to him and passionately in love with him woman might think that she is Margarita. A sardonic, middle aged and more or less powerful gentleman might often consider himself to be Woland.

But it is not the only way to understand Russian intellectuals.

It is a book about you, reader. It is about everlasting values.

It is also about the wonderful power of money, but in a very unique way. "In a few seconds, the rain of money, ever thickening, reached the seats, and the spectators began snatching at it.”

It is about adoration, but probably in a bit of an old fashioned and because of it, new way: "Every second now Margarita felt lips touch her knee, every second she held out her hand to be kissed, her face was contracted into a fixed mask of greeting."

If you think that love and words about love could be great: "Follow me, reader! Who told you that there is no true, faithful, eternal love in this world! May the liar’s vile tongue be cut out! Follow me, my reader, and me alone, and I will show you such a love!"; it is a book about you.

If you like to laugh and could believe that your own cat is a very special creature: "I challenge you to a duel!" bawled the cat, sailing over their heads on the swinging chandelier, and the Browning was again in his paw, and the primus was lodged among the branches of the chandelier. The cat took aim and, flying like a pendulum over the heads of the visitors, opened fire on them. The din shook the apartment". It is a book about you.

If you believe that unpredictable wonderful things could happen and nothing is impossible: "About what? About what? About whom?” said Woland, ceasing to laugh. “And that - now? It’s stupendous! Couldn’t you have found some other subject? Let me see it. "Woland held out his hand, palm up.
"Unfortunately, I cannot do it", replied the Master," because I burned it in my stove".
"Forgive me, but I don’t believe you," Woland replied, "That can’t be: manuscripts don’t burn." He turned to Behemoth and said," Come on, Behemoth, let’s have the novel.”
The cat jumped off the chair, and everyone saw that he had been sitting on a thick stack of manuscripts. With a bow the cat handed the top copy to Woland. Margarita trembled and cried out, again shaken to the point of tears: "It’s here, the manuscript! It’s here!” She dashed to Woland and added in admiration: ”All - powerful! All - powerful!”; it is a book about you.

If you are afraid of Death and want to think that there is something in the world mightier than extinction and non-existence; it is a book about you.

It is a unique book for and about every mortal being who could suggest that his life is a mysterious precious possession and part of an endless angelic and demonic eternity. It is a novel which reminds the reader that Fear, Death, and Oblivion are not as strong and powerful as these two: Love and Art.

1. Have you ever read any Russian novel of the XX century?
2. Don’t you agree with Russian intellectuals that this novel is a very special and unique book?
3. Don’t you think that when reading this novel you should be aware of Russian history in the 1930-ies?
4. "You should never ask anyone for anything. Never – and especially from those who are more powerful than yourself." What do you think about this statement of Woland?
5. Do you believe that Art and Love are more powerful than Death and Oblivion?

Here is the list of the books that you might want to read after The Master and Margarita.
Also by Michail Bulgakov:
  • The Dog’s Heart
  • Black Snow: A Theatrical Novel
  • Life of Monsieur de Molière
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Faust (1808, 1832)
Nikolai Gogol, The Dead Souls (1842)
Copyright © 2006 Vladimir N. Shatsev

About Author:
Vladimir N. Shatsev, from St. Petersburg, is a prominent teacher of Literature with original ideas and attitudes. He has been invited for “Readings from Russia” at Chapters, to give Canadians an additional impulse to enter the enchanting and eccentric world of Tolstoy, Chekhov, Bulgakov, and others.

This is the first essay from the series “Readings from Russia”.



Eugenia Weinstein: Illustrations: The Master & Margarita
'It is about Pontius. Mikhail Bulgakov, The Master & Margarita ... The Master & Margarita is a must-read book. Written between 1928 and 1940 by Mikhail ... [Found on Google, Yahoo! Search, MSN Search]

Bulgakov's Master and Margarita

A web-based multimedia annotation to Bulgakov's Master and Margarita, created by Kevin Moss, Middlebury College. Text, graphic, and audio materials: maps, ... [Found on Google, Yahoo! Search, MSN Search]

Penguin Reading Guides | The Master and Margarita | Mikhail Bulgakov
Mikhail Bulgakov completed his novel The Master and Margarita just before his death in 1940, but it remained officially unpublished until 1966, whereupon it ... [Found on Google, Yahoo! Search]

Flickr: Photos tagged with Master and Margarita

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