I read this novel at the recommendation of my wife. She grew up in Ukraine and it’s quite possibly her favorite novel. I marked it as “fantasy” on my Goodreads shelf, and it is, but it’s also a satire and a literary novel.
Mikhail Bulgakov wrote The Master and Magarita, what many would consider to be his masterwork, over the course of more than a decade, starting in 1928 until his untimely death in 1940. It was written in Soviet Moscow during a time when any criticism of the government, even in the form of satire, was nearly akin to treason. It was for that reason that the novel wasn’t published until 1966.
The Master and Margarita tells the story of the devil and his three cohorts and their mischievous exploits when they swing by Moscow for an unexpected visit. Needless to say, the group causes all manner of havoc, sending the city into a near panic and resulting in some of the most absurd explanations and justifications by the anti-religious regime.
The undercurrent of the novel is the love affair between The Master, the writer of a brilliant but misunderstood novel about Pontius Pilate, and Margarita, a discontent housewife.
But the real star of the novel is Behemoth, the gargantuan black cat and companion of the devil. He is a scene-stealing character, constantly performing amusing acts or making jokes. He brings a levity to a novel that might otherwise be considered too cynical.
Overall, I really enjoyed the novel. It was definitely a departure from the epic fantasies and space operas that I so frequently read, but a welcome one. It says so much about Soviet Russia and, yet, it can still be enjoyed solely upon the merits of its surreal and incredible story.