Issue 4, Semester 1, 2019
Read Russian literature, they said. It’ll reveal all manner of truths about the depth and depravity of the human soul; you’ll be a better person for it, they said. Naturally, I Googled “Best Russian Books,” and rather than picking up Dostoevsky or Tolstoy (as per instructions), I stumbled upon The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov. Simultaneously one of the most entertaining, ridiculous, and introspective books I’ve ever read, it is one I highly recommend.
Now, either I live under a rock (quite probably), or this is the most famous book that nobody (at least in my sad corner of the world) has heard of. Despite being banned from publication by Soviet authorities at the time it was written in 1938, and only released in 1967, it has since been hailed as every Russian’s favourite novel, with the first episode of a 2005 TV adaption tuned in on 40 million screens across the country.
Paying no heed to these adulations, the story itself is an insane roller-coaster of feelings. At times so absurd as to fall into the territory of surrealist fiction, it is also a deeply political tale, and a biting satire of Russian society as at the time Bulgakov penned it. It begins with Satan bumping into two poets on a park bench in Moscow, and unfolds into a mad chain of destruction as the devil wreaks havoc and disturbs peace and order in the rigidly organised city.
Cats wield guns, maids turn their bosses into pigs and fly off naked into the night, and Moscow’s society go wild over a few frilly hats. While religion and faith are themes that loom large over the aggressively pragmatic, agnostic citizens depicted in the book, its very essence is to not take yourself — or life — too seriously.
All in all, this is an important, and thoroughly enjoyable novel that deserves its spot among the great works of modern literature. To hell with the depths of the human soul. I’d rather watch pigs dance.
Ying is a Second Year JD Student and the Online Editor of De Minimis.
Other articles in this issue: