Bulgakov's The Master and Margarita


Originally published at: http://boingboing.net/2017/05/10/bulgakovs-the-master-and-mar.html


Behemoth knows how to party!


We visited Moscow in 2008 and, in the course of our perambulations, stopped in to the Eliseevsky deli, site of Behemoth’s exuberant matches-and-kerosene party. I’d read M&M just a couple of years earlier, and was very curious to see the place; sadly, it was the only one of the still-existing “real” settings from the book we managed to visit.
The decor was apparently unchanged from the 1930s (more like the 1890s, possibly) except for the addition of modern open-topped refrigerator cases and electronic cash registers, so I was very disappointed by the utter lack of giant pyromaniacal black cats.

Apart from the antique giltwork, though, it compared poorly with any of our neighborhood Russian grocery stores in Los Angeles - lower-quality produce, higher prices (but then everything in Moscow was eye-wateringly expensive in 2008), and truly shocking service. Also, flies in the open-topped refrigerators. I was interested to see the pattern from which our local stores were copied, but also to see how much nicer the copies are…

By the way: if you happen to have a local Russian grocery store, give them a try sometime. The produce tends to be very good and fairly cheap, the cheese/cold cuts section will amaze you, they usually have an on-premises hot deli counter, and the bread is awesome. Obviously this can’t be a universal endorsement, but the good ones tend to be very good indeed.


On the topic of bread… our local store carries “Amberye” brand, imported from Lithuania and sold frozen. (They have several varieties; my favorite is Borodinsky black rye.) How they manage to ship it in a freezer container from Lithuania to Los Angeles, and still make a profit at $4.99/loaf, is a mystery to me. We visited Tahiti a couple of years ago and bought Breton butter, salted with sel de Guerande, for $2/half-kilo. Same mystery.

My theory is that the bread keeps the heroin warm.


It’s a brilliant book, in so many ways, and a masterful mix of comedic and serious, fantastic and realistic.


there should be an anime version of it : definitely a story Miyazaki could use (sounds millenial I know).


This became one of my ‘favorite books of all-time’ the first time I read it.

Mine as well. I like the Richard Pevear / Larissa Volokhonsky translation of 1997


It is one of my favourite books, though nowadays I find the description of the ball excessively sexist.

Edit - for people who like Bulgakov references, there’s a guy who posts on The Register as “Voland’s right hand”. I wish I’d thought of that.


On a tangent: For a while, me and my friends had a rule to accept as many pamphlets and booklets as possible off any Jehovah’s witness we might encounter, lest they be visited upon someone less fortunate. Usually we had a good subsequent laugh, browsing through our loot and looking for the most ridiculous passages.

I vividly remember some short Watchtower article about a student given Master and Margarita as a reading assignment. The student decided to reject a book “depicting Satan in a favorable light” and instead proposed that the class read the bible and learn about the uplifting life of Jesus. In the article everyone immediately agreed, overjoyed by the Gospels and grateful to the righteous student for the suggestion.

To the degree that this was intended as an example to be actually followed by living breathing teenagers, I cannot imagine a more devious plot to create young martyrs…


They’ve just banned the JW’s in Russia, but I doubt somehow this was the reason. Tempting as it would have been…

And no, I don’t approve of banning the JWs. They add to the gaiety of life. If I’m feeling down and see them in town with their little trolley trying to hand out leaflets in English and Polish, I immediately feel better due to Schadenfreude.


The Ginsburg translation is the one with all the historical/cultural annotations, isn’t it? Of the three or four I’ve tried, that one was my favourite as well, and the one I thought captured the spirit of the Russian text the best.


The only thing that can save the dying tom. . . is a sip of kerosene!


There exist both a Russian and a Polish TV miniseries, both of which are fantastic (and very low-budget). The Russian version can be watched in its entirety on Youtube (with subtitles): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1t6W9hkXV6g&list=PL5F53D266E7688852



I just reread The Master and Margarita this past fall in this translation by Pevear and Volokhonsky, and this translation seemed so much alive and immediate than the version I’d first read.


A favorite of mine…the origin of the Rolling Stones’ “Sympathy for the Devil”.

The Devil came down to Moscow…and all Hell broke loose.

A zillion good parts. Mysterious gentlemen. A talking cat. An adulterous wife. A fellow forced to wander the streets in a nightgown with an ikon and a wedding candle. The greatest ever magic show. Lots of funny currency. Pickled mushrooms. A swimming pool full of cognac. Pontius Pilate. A man without a head. People compulsively singing. A party like no other. A scene I swear got stolen by Quentin Tarrantino. The greatest of all skin creams. And just when you think it couldn’t get any more over the top…it does.

A story I’ve heard is that the building that the apartment where most of this happened has enacted a covenant that the building should always keep one black cat, so that travelers can always meet Behemoth.


The only bad thing about The Master and Margarita is there really is nothing else like it, and all literature thereafter compares unfavorably.

Maaaaybe David Markson.


A mixture of marvel and desire.[quote=“jlw, post:1, topic:100782”]
a giant vodka drinking cat
I can only speculate how the cat was transformed into a drinkable state.


I was gifted a copy of this book by a random fellow American during a brief stay at a youth hostel in Grad school.

In retrospect, it was really generous thing to do, because the book is AWESOME, and I would have not given it up myself.


I read just enough of this to write the undergrad essay I needed to for a Russian Literature course and I really should go back and give it proper due. Maybe a different translation than the one I had back then would rekindle my interest, though I still have my college copy on the shelf.


Apparently I have no taste because I put this book down about halfway through, and normally I will read anything. Each to their own I guess.