The Master and Margarita, by Mikhail Bulgakov

Second paragraph of third chapter:

Поэт провел рукою по лицу, как человек, только что очнувшийся, и увидел, что на Патриарших вечер. Вода в пруде почернела, и легкая лодочка уже скользила по ней, и слышался плеск весла и смешки какой-то гражданки в лодочке. В аллеях на скамейках появилась публика, но опять-таки на всех трех сторонах квадрата, кроме той, где были наши собеседники. The poet passed his hand across his face like a man who has just come to, and saw that it was evening at the Patriarch's Pond. The water in the pond had blackened, and a light skiff was already sliding across it, and the splashing of an oar and the giggles of some citizeness in the skiff could be heard. People had appeared on the benches in the avenues, but again, on each of the three sides of the square apart from the one where our interlocutors were.

I had read this many many years ago, and enjoyed it to the extent of going out of my way to visit Bulgakov's house, now a museum, on the first of my two visits to Kiev. (I didn't learn a lot – everything was in Russian or Ukrainian. Might be different now – my Russian is better and I imagine they have broadened out their appeal a bit.)

The book was first published in Paris in 1967, long after the author's death in 1940. It tells the story of the devil visiting Stalinist Russia, and interacting destructively with the institutions of literary power. The unnamed Master is the author of a novel about Pontius Pilate and Yeshua Ha-Notsri (Jesus the Nazarene); Margarita is his lover. There are some very vivid images and moments, and also some very clever allusions to what could not actually be said in the Stalinist era. However I have to admit I found the plot rather rambling and difficult to grasp, and the satire (as so often) a bit too happy with its own cleverness. So I'm not sure that I would go back to it a third time. Still, you can get it here.

This was the top book on my shelves that I had read but not reviewed online. Next on that list is Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, by Robert M. Pirsig.

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