The Master and Margarita is one of the most influential books of the 20th century, and my second most favorite read of all time. It was written, burned and rewritten by Ukranian author Mikhail Bulgakov from 1928 until his death in 1940. The manuscript (which he left with unfinished sentences and loose ends) was first published as a book in 1967 in Germany, and finally in Russia in 1973.
It’s about the devil who comes to 1930’s Moscow in the guise of a magician named Woland and wreaks havoc among the corrupt and snooty literary society and its trade union. Satan’s entourage consists of five mysterious, and quite frankly terrifying characters: his valet Koroviev; a black cat the size of a pig that wears a cape, rides the tram, loves guns and speaks perfect Russian; the fanged hitman Azazello; the pale-faced Abadonna; and the witch Hella. Everywhere they appear there is death, fire and a lot of screaming…
But it gets weirder. That’s just the first setting. The second plot unravels during the conversations between Woland and Berlioz, the head of the literary bureaucracy, about the execution of Jesus by Pontius Pilate in Jerusalem. Which is also the subject of a book by The Master, an embittered author who voluntarily checked himself into an insane asylum and abandoned his wife Margarita after his book is rejected. The despairing Margarita ends up making a pact with the devil to liberate her husband from his anguish. In the process she learns to fly (!) and endures some excruciating tests, naked (!).
Whether there is a happy ending to the couple’s ordeal, I won’t reveal, but I can guarantee you’ll be entertained, shocked and confused from beginning to end. The Master and Margarita is a satire, but undeniably swims in the waters of magical realism, Bulgakov’s chosen genre. If you read Gabriel Garcia Marquez’ One Hundred Years of Solitude, my number one favorite book, you know exactly what I mean. I found the Russian sentiment to be much creepier and menacing however, which is why it stuck with me. The book also inspired Mick Jagger to write the song Sympathy for the Devil in 1968.
As a side note, and at the risk of being political, I must also mention that Bulgakov is at the center of a controversial strife at the moment. A new television mini-series based on his book The White Guard, was recently banned in the Ukraine because it supposedly “demonstrates contempt for Ukrainian language, people and statehood.” The article in the New York Times also quotes the Director of the Bulgakov Museum, Ms. Gubiauri, who was one of the people asked to review the mini-series: “I don’t see it as a piece of art; it is basically propaganda,” she said, with everything Ukrainian cast negatively.
But this is just about my new clutch, people.
Vintage navy turtleneck Sweater (my own); Vintage Crushed Velvet Dress (my own); Black wide legged pants by Risto; Black crop sweater by American Apparel; Vintage velvet hat by Adolfo, $125 at The Spooky Boutique; Mongolian lamb fur vest, $750 at Gypsy Nation Vintage; Vintage black fox headband, $115 at Gypsy Nation Vintage; Vintage 70s lilac cardigan, $100 at Gypsy Nation Vintage; Vintage stones necklace from Croatia.
Manicure by Studio L.
Photos by Felix Wong, at Brighton Beach in Brooklyn, and by the Russian Orthodox Church in Williamsburg.