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Happy Birthday to a Bulgakov masterpiece December 17, 2005

Posted by BiB in Uncategorized.

The Master and Margarita is 65 today (well, not quite today, but around now), and in its honour, I’m giving it the BiB seal of literary approval in a one-off Oprah-style BiB book-club.

It’s a book I’ve had a torrid affair with. It may be the book that’s most got under my skin. It started, of course, at university (number one), when I was meant to take a seminar on it but of course hadn’t read the bastard and had to bunk off and miss my moment of glory. Very grown-up, you’ll agree. I’d been assured by my teacher that it was a book I wouldn’t be able to put down, yet I found it eminently, relentlessly, effortlessly putdownable as a man barely out of my teenage years. But once reading it was no longer forced labour, but a labour of love, I was hooked. It IS a gripping read.

I’ve just been listening to a snippet from the BBC’s Russian service and, to my great relief, intellectual number two, being interviewed by presenter and intellectual number one, couldn’t say what the book was about. It’s a cop-out (for me), of course, to say it’s hard to say what the book’s about, but it really is true. (This reminds me of when my ex-boyfriend was raving about Blue Velvet to one of his (American) father’s scarily intellectual (American) friends and, as he fluffed his opening lines in trying to describe the film was asked, curtly, “It was about something?” But more about those very same American intellectuals (not werewolves) in London in a deliciously smooth link-up in a sec.) The book’s got everything. Love, the devil, madness, Soviet Moscow, hilarity, Jesus and Pontius Pilate, a talking cat… the works.

Now one can get a bit caught up in one’s books. Rather like Alan Bennett and his father’s two suits, known as ‘my suit’ and ‘my other suit’, I’ve only really got two books I recommend and give as presents. This one and Daniel Deronda. I so need to branch out. But back to the American intellectuals. Ex-boyfriend was struggling to think of a birthday present for his father. I piped up with my one and only solution, new at the time, and the freshness and enthusiasm of the piping convinced ex-boyfriend that it was a satisfactory choice. And it turned out to be so. Thankfully, his father hadn’t read it and looked suitably chuffed before no doubt placing it on a shelf where it gathers dust nicely to this very day. We set off to celebrate at a very mediocre Indian restaurant – must geniuses hate food? – where we were joined by American-intellectual-in-London number two. When it came to present-giving time, out came a book-shaped parcel and, to no-one’s surprise but my ex-boyfriend’s and mine, in it was The Master and Margarita. We whooped at the coincidence of it all. But the American intellectuals (and girlfriend of AiiL#1) thought nothing of this – they clearly got out more than we did – and nor was anyone (but us) surprised when AiiL#2 took the book back and produced a back-up present.

Anyway, in spite of this perhaps inauspicious start, I have continued, relentlessly, to give the book as a present. I amazonned it to someone this year, who commented that it looked large and wasn’t that the book I’d given a gazillion times to everyone I knew already? So, yes, I must branch out.

Fucking good read though. I highly recommend it.


1. lukeski - December 17, 2005

I have bought it for people over the years, and not a single one of them has enjoyed it or managed to get their heads around it. I tragically have to re-read the Moscow parts at least once a year. Maybe I should widen my choice of authors…

2. Broke in Berlin - December 17, 2005

Not tragic at all. They’re well worth the reread. I encouraged/harried a German friend with no psychic connection to Russia into reading it earlier this year. He was, if not scathing, then at least aggressively indifferent to begin with. But he claims to have got into it and enjoyed it, although I sensed it was a subject never to be raised again.

I’m afraid an audio-version has been known to darken the hi-fi (does that word still exist?) in this Wohnung.

Widening one’s choice of authors is tricky. I know I am hopelessly ill-read and yet I find myself wanting to reread what I already know. Must be comfort-reading.

3. lukeski - December 17, 2005

Comfort reading is most concerning – I find myself doing it constantly. Or reading books about my comfort books. I have been told to read Cortazar by our friendly neighbourhood Galician – although we had taken a drink at that point. And I have a mass of Čapek in English translation due in the next couple of days. I am reading an wonderfully annotated version of Alice in Wonderland at the moment – I am utterly convinced the Carroll was a genius (despite his predilection for young naked girls).

4. Wyndham the Triffid - December 17, 2005

Time to dig out my old copy, methinks. The section that stays with me is the self-contained Jesus/Pilate section, though. Damn, another book to go on the pile.

5. BiB - October 15, 2006

Rereading is where it’s at. But it does make me the dimmest person in Berlin.

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