What a very, very clever book. To appreciate it, you have to be aware of the context in which it was written and for that I’d heartily recommend the excellent Wikipedia entry for the book (although it might contain more of the story than you’d want to know prior to reading it.)
When Satan and his entourage visit Moscow all hell, literally, breaks loose. I was captivated by the way the novel messed with the reality of the world as we see it. There are magic realist episodes throughout the book which heighten in intensity and get longer as the book progresses. So, this is a good one for anyone looking to get more experience reading that genre before turning to, say, The Famished Road, Beloved or The Satanic Verses.
As with all the best satire, the novel is at once exceptionally playful and yet layered with symbolic meaning of the deepest sincerity. Take this quote from near the end of the novel and consider it as a description of Satan and his comrades:
Spokesmen for the police and a number of experienced psychiatrists established that the members of the gang, or perhaps one of them… were hypnotists of incredible skill, capable of appearing to be in two or more places at once. Furthermore, they were frequently able to persuade people that things or people were where they weren’t, or, vice-versa, they could remove objects or people from someone’s field of vision that were really there all the time.
Now read it again and think of it as a description of Stalin and his comrades. Brilliant, eh? The entire novel is littered with carefully constructed criticism of his day.
There is no doubt that this is one of the 20th century’s most important novels. Bulgakov died just four weeks after he’d completed the novel. It’s legacy however, will live for decades to come.
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