So, you’ve heard of a readalong, yes? Group gets together, virtually or IRL, and reads a book together. Well, I meant to do that, but I got distracted first by RIP and second by The Labors of Hercules and I forgot to sign up and then I read slow and now I’m 12 days behind. I hope they won’t mind having me tag after them like the last kid in the race. Cuz that’s what I am.
I read this book in college, I believe, more years ago than I’m going to tell you, and honestly only remember 1) that it’s strange, 2) I liked it, 3) there’s Moscow and a cat. Having read the first 8 chapters, that’s still all I can tell you. Okay, not quite, I can sum up the whole thing, but can I explain it? No. But that’s probably all right. The Devil went down to Moscow, or at least a gentleman, possibly foreign, though maybe not, appears at Patriarch’s Ponds (though on the map it sure looks like only one pond) and starts chatting with two men having a discussion about Jesus and his non-existence. One is high up in MASSOLIT, the literary establishment of Soviet Russia, and the other is a poet and the editor is trying to get the poet to write an article about this. The stranger barges in and through his conversation seems to indicate that he’s been hanging out and chatting with people for a couple of millennia at least. He tells the story of Pontius Pilate in such a way that both men feel they are there, witnessing it. The man says other things, too, indicating he knows how Berlioz, the editor will die, and is just generally pretty freaky. What the man says then comes true and this sends the poet out of his mind. He chases after the man who is joined by another strange man and a large cat. The cat is capable of human like behavior and tries to pay his fare to get on a streetcar when they separate. Ivan keeps chasing, but never gets any closer and winds up performing such a series of bizarre stunts that he winds up hospitalized, rambling about this consultant and Pontius Pilate. There’s more. But that’s enough to give you an idea.
I’m pretty sure that when I read this the first time I must have read the Mirra Ginsburg translation which was based apparently on a censored edition. If I were a faster reader, I might track down a copy to see what’s missing. This time I went with the Burgin-O’Connor based on a one-sentence comparison I found on the web. There are a number to choose from, this has become quite a classic and a miracle it survived to publication. And there are seemingly hundreds of great covers for this book. I’m enjoying it as I did the first time, but feel no wiser as to what it means