Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Bulgakov's "The Master and Margarita"

Last night I attended my first literary book group since arriving in Salt Lake almost 3 years ago. The group was open to anyone but only Barnes & Noble employees like me were present. I was immediately reminded of how much I enjoy reading and discussing literature with others with the same love of a good book. The book we read was The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov. I have to confess that I procrastinated a bit so was forced to rush in the last couple of days before we met. I think that was mostly due to my experience with the Russian literature of Tolstoy and Dostoevsky. I read The Brothers Karamazov, Notes from Underground, and an abridged version of War and Peace eons ago and did not appreciate as much as I think I would now. The Master and Margarita was entertaining and engaging … I regret not starting it earlier to contemplate all the second and third level thought that I’m sure just blew over my head.

In a nutshell, The Master and Margarita is the story of the Devil’s visit to Soviet Russia in the early 1930’s and the seventh proof of God’s existence, which is if the devil exists then God must exist. He has a retinue with him, including a vodka-drinking, gun-wielding cat the size of a hippopotamus, who wreak havoc on the atheistic Muscovites. It also jumps back to the time of Christ (Yeshua Ha-Notsri) and Pontius Pilate leading up to the crucifixion. Throw in a love story between an author in an insane asylum and his true love, who becomes a witch and Hostess of Satan’s Grand Ball to free him, and you have the basics of the story. It is a satire of the intelligentsia of Stalin’s Russia, a play on Faust, and ultimately of love and peace (but not salvation). I recommend reading it. I certainly will again with much greater care.

I do not have any commentary but the discussion did raise a couple of questions to chew on.

1. If there is a devil, does he need people to believe in God for true temptation to occur?
2. What does it say about human nature when we kinda root for the bad guys like Behemoth the vodka-drinking cat in films and literature?
3. Are the consequences of our actions or our intention more important?

That’s all for tonight. We’re reading The Last Temptation of Christ by Nikos Kazantzakis, author of Zorba the Greek, for next month. We will meet the fourth Monday of July if you are interested in joining us. I promise not to procrastinate on this one.

Best wishes,

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