Hailed as one of the great works of Russian literature written in the 20th century, The Master and Margarita is a satirical fantasy set in Stalin’s Moscow and Pontius Pilate’s Jerusalem.
The novel contains three major plot elements: the arrival of the Devil and his retinue in Moscow, the love story of the eponymous Master and Margarita, and the world of ancient Judea as depicted in the Master’s novel.
The Devil – disguised as Professor Woland – arrives with his retinue in 1930s Moscow, and starts persecuting the city’s cultural elite, and targeting their trade union, MASSOLIT. He recruits Margarita to serve as a hostess at his Grand Ball on Walpurgis Night, and offers her the opportunity to become a powerful witch.
She eventually also gets a chance to liberate her lover, the Master, who has been put in a mental institution after writing a novel about Pontius Pilate and Jesus of Nazareth – a choice that pits the couple against the Devil.
Written at the height of Stalin’s regime, The Master and Margarita remained unpublished in Russia for over thirty years. When it was finally published, it became wildly popular. It has since then had widespread cultural influence and been adapted into films, TV series, comics, theatre, the ballet, opera, as well as popular and classical music.
“Margarita has too many achievements to list, but the way it keeps faith in love and art even in moments of unspeakable humiliation and cruelty must be the greatest,” says a recent review of this new translation in the New York Times.
Published in 1967. Translated from the Russian by Richard Pevear and Larissa and Volokhonsky, 2016.