The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov

Day Five of Blogtober and I’m moving on to another allegory of the Soviet Union. Unlike Cancer Ward, this one is a satirical look at Soviet life with a fantasy gothic twist.

I first read The Master and Margarita when I was about fourteen or fifteen so my memory of it is a bit hazy. I remember being fascinated by the characters of Woland and Behemoth, the black cat. Even so far as to later draft a pop up version of their storyline in my GCSE Graphic Design class.

The story takes place both in 1930s Soviet Russia, visited by the devil himself, and ancient Jerusalem, which forms the basis of a novel within a novel. Like in Cancer Ward, bureaucracy becomes its own character, but there is also a strong theme of the forced anti-religion of the state.

I think for me the most fascinating part of The Master and Margarita is its publishing history. Mikhail Bulgakov burnt an early version of his manuscript, echoed when the writer in the novel does the same and spawning the quoted phrase ‘manuscripts don’t burn’. It was eventually published 27 years after his death (by his wife, I believe, a safe distance from stalin’s death) in 1967, and not in complete form until 1973. It’s definitely one to keep in mind during Banned Books Week (which was unfortunately last week!).


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