IF YOU’RE ONLY GOING TO READ ONE BOOK IN YOUR LIFE, READ…

“The Master and Margarita” by Mikhail Bulgakov.

As sad as it is, not many young people in the UK know about this great Russian writer and Anna Martinen even dares to call him World-Literate. Even those leisurely readers, who are not interested in history and politics, can find something from the life and writings of Mr Bulgakov, as his works are incredibly clever and multi-dimensional.

Born in the end of 19th century, Bulgakov witnessed huge changes in the political landscape during his short life. While the majority in Russia were fascinated with the idea of a revolution and “the power of people” instead of royal rule, Bulgakov suspected that the future’s not going to be as bright as promised. He was a clever and educated man, extremely fond of his own beliefs and honour. People described him as the most honest person they had ever met and perhaps because of this trait Bulgakov never gave in to the political ideologies of his time.

He had to suffer under severe pressure for his resistance, though, put on him by comrade Stalin. The extraordinary attention Bulgakov gained from the Leader resulted not only in being bullied by secret agents, having his notebooks and manuscripts confiscated, plays taken off the stage just a couple of days before the show and almost all his friends arrested, but even in personal terrorising phone calls from Stalin himself. Imagine yourself being a writer, and say, Mr Gordon Brown calling you (too often) about a new essay or article you wrote (and no, I’m not comparing Stalin to Mr Brown, only in respect of grandeur). You can imagine what kind of moral pressure the writer was under.

It is worth contemplating why Bulgakov was ‘honoured’ with all that attention, instead of being sent to a concentration camp where many other dissident writers found their end. Stalin was probably impressed with Bulgakov’s writing talent and wanted to use it for his own purposes (but you can’t make the river flow backwards, can you?). The other possible explanation why Bulgakov’s life was retained is that Stalin needed to have an equal opponent to his ideas. By trying to break Bulgakov’s spirit, Stalin could prove to himself his own authority and power. But he never succeeded. Bulgakov eventually wrote the much wanted communistic piece, but unfortunately for comrade Stalin, he was not the hero of the work, more like an anti-hero.

Power is one of many themes that is to be found in Mikhail Bulgakov’s most famous work – The Master and Margarita. The structure of the novel is complex and multi-dimensional, coming off as a beautiful dance of several story lines that interweave with each other to form one harmonious image. Bulgakov cogitates about power and how it influences people today and in the past. The possession of power and how one uses it is crucial to the writer when portraying human nature.

Although the book is renowned for its ingenious political satire and rewriting of a Biblical tale, it can also be read as a romantic story about self-sacrificing love. The love between the Master and his Margarita is not just fiction and fantasy; the writer himself experienced a very passionate love affair and wrote this book as a mirror To his own life. But this is still not where The Master and Margarita stops unfolding its surprises…Sci-fi fans–this book is for you, too! Witches and the Devil, talking cats, magic- mystical powers of good and evil are all over this story. The book has strong connections to Goethe’s Faust and, similarly to the German writer, Bulgakov shows that nothing is one-sided, just black and white. The ‘negative’ protagonist (the Devil) is someone who connects the past, present and future into one accomplished picture. Certainly deeper than your usual fairy tale.

Bulgakov described himself as a mystic and satiric, and he lived and wrote up to that description. His work reflects his own time and life, retells the past, foresees the future, and not least – really opens us up for a discussion on human nature. With no doubt, Bulgakov possesses a great power over words and that is why everyone, who considers themselves a thinking being, should read this book. Take your time and stop the rush to think about life as Bulgakov did.

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