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The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov

book cover of The Master and Margarita

I’m not sure who the translator was for the edition I read, but I feel like they weren’t one of the better ones… the prose in this was just stilted and kept some level of distance from me; it wasn’t the kind of engaging prose I’m used to reading. So a large part of my low rating is really because of the poor translation.

This is obviously considered one of the big books of Russian literature, and I certainly appreciated some of the snark and the sending-up of Soviet society. But the story itself was kind of incoherent, like a 500-page dream sequence where you can’t expect any kind of continuity to last too long and there’s a lot of seemingly unrelated things happening. (The closer you get to the end, the more related they turn out to be, but I endured a lot of confusion first.) It’s also not really a book for character development… it’s more like the kind of traditional tale where the characters represent things, rather than be people. Which is fine, there’s still value in those kinds of stories, I just don’t find them the most enjoyable. As for rewarding, I think this book could have been that, if I’d taken it slower (like one chapter a day) and had a reading guide or something to explain all the references. So, if you’re not a habitual reader of old classics, that’s the approach I’d recommend with this one… it’s just not accessible enough to read straight through and expect to enjoy.

★½

photo of Jessica Smith is a left-wing feminist who loves animals, books, gaming, and cooking; she’s also very interested in linguistics, history, technology and society.