Major spoilers. Will write a non-spoilery review soon.
So, I finished the book on time – even early – and I’m still posting late. I discovered when I finished it that there were a lot of notes at the back not linked. So, thanks for that, Overlook Press, nice work. The notes are by a woman named Ellendea Proffer and while some are ones I even tried to look up on my own, like Woland’s name, others are… of dubious helpfulness like when she specially points out all the people disappearing “although the casual reader might not really focus on it.” Leaving aside the fact that that’s all I think happened in the Soviet Union under Stalin – people were disappeared and shot or sent to gulags – how could anyone miss all the disappearances referred to in the beginning of this book? An entire building empties out. You’d have to be more than casual to miss it. More like comatose.
Reading all the notes at once — not optimal. I did learn a few things, one of which is how many names mean other things. I knew about Bezdomny meaning Homeless from other readers’ blogs, but I didn’t know many others and I think if I were translating it I would give them the translated names. He’d be the poet Ivan Homeless, not Bezdomny. Bengalsky is good, except never in a million years would I associate a tiger with that feeble emcee. I suppose it’s irony. I don’t see the point of keeping the Russian word when it is not so much a name as a translatable word. Apparently Behemoth is the Russian for Hippopotamus. I think I would call him Hippopotamus. Otherwise, I think the translation was good. At least, from what one can tell. It was readable. I didn’t get confused by it, though I was frequently confused by the text. Or maybe bewildered is better. What was happening was clear, why it was happening not so much.
This book certainly made me feel undereducated — my knowledge of Manichean principles is pretty much non-existent. The idea that the whole Jesus story was made up by Pilate after the crucifixion to… assuage his guilt? … is bizarre. I don’t really imagine Pilate felt all that guilty, but even if he did. How does murdering Judas and inventing the idea of his suicide help that? Ha-Notsri seems like a nice guy, but seems to have otherwise done almost none of the things Jesus did before his death, let alone the things he’s supposed to have done after. He is not Jesus, he has no disciples, just one crazed follower getting everything wrong. I thought at first the Levi Matvei would be the one to retell the whole story so it comes down to us as the Gospels, but that doesn’t seem to be what was happening.
And Woland. What up with him? They all fly off into the night and live happily ever after? Sadly, Behemoth is no longer a cat. He was my favorite. I meant to read some articles which might explain it all somehow, but I was supposed to be finishing my fourth R.I.P. book, so that didn’t happen. When Woland says that if there were no God nor Satan no one would be running things, that should mean that everything that happened was according to plan, but what sort of plan was it? Why was Margarita able to make a deal with the devil and come out just fine? Everyone else who got near him or his cronies generally wound up in an institution. Why is the book called the Master and Margarita when the Master is, well, pretty much a feeble hanger on who does almost nothing? When he steps into Ivan’s room (Enter the hero) you think, maybe this guy will stop Woland, but he doesn’t do a darn thing. He has the keys to the hospital and neither leaves, nor lets anyone else out. He writes a peculiar novel about Pilate and seems to have something important to say, but what is it? Or is it a joke and the whole Pilate part is meant to show that people can invest themselves thoroughly in clap-trap? And who stops Woland? No one. He stops himself after a while and rides off into the sunset like a hero. And Margarita is a boss. Not at all what you expect from the earlier description of her. She’s a witch and she revels in it. The only one
I do think it gives a good idea of what it was like to live under a Soviet dictatorship — the uncertainty, the random arrests, the accusations out of nowhere, just as often in order to get something you had, like an apartment, as for any other reason. Any feeling of security such as Berlioz possessed was false, no one knew where they would be that evening when they woke up that morning (of course, that’s always true, but to a lesser extent in a civilized society.) Some people did well out of the system, some did well for a while, then very badly, others just got shipped far away and never heard from again. I have long meant to read more Bulgakov, maybe this time I will. I did see a Young Doctor’s Notebook which is also trippy as hell, but very good. But then, I might be the only one on this readalong who enjoyed the book. No, I can’t explain it, but I do love it, and think one day I’ll read it again. Thanks to Alice for hosting this readalong! They’re always great!