The Book of Sawce, Chapter 20 – A Book at the Bottom of Your To-Read List

20 The Master and Margarita

He’s a very talented cat.

Ho-ho-holy crap, it’s been almost a year since I last wrote a new Book of Sawce.  Man, oh, man, where does the time go?  Not toward reading books, apparently.  So…yeah.  To everyone who thought I only write about anime, here’s evidence to the contrary.  Welcome back to The Book of Sawce.  And now we pull from the bottom of the to-read list and journey to Russia in Mikhail Bulgakov’s The Master and Margarita.

The corrupt, elite, pretentious, and general snobs of 1930s Moscow begin to experience some very strange things.  The first was a poet by the name of “Homeless” who witnessed the head of the literary bureaucracy…lose his head when a trolley ran over him.  Another finds himself teleported to a completely different town.  Yet another barely escapes a vampire!  This all culminates in a dark seance led by the foreigner Woland and his motley crew.  Again, those in attendance are struck with the occult and run out into the streets of Moscow.  No one knows how this is all being done, but a patient who’s checked himself into an asylum known only as the Master meets Homeless and has come to one conclusion–Woland is Satan.  With an entourage comprised of a loud-mouthed hog-sized cat, a tall checkered-suited fast-talking man, a fanged hitman, and a naked redheaded woman with a purple scar on her neck…the Master’s guess may not be too far off.  So, look out, Moscow!  The Devil has come to town.

So, why was this even on my to-read list?  Well, I took a class on Faust in college, and everything associated with the legend just fascinated me.  Still does, actually.  So, research for that class led me to what many consider one of the greatest Russian novels.  I haven’t read many (i.e. any) Russian novels, but I figured that it’d be a good place to start.  Took me so long to read it because there was just always something else to read, watch, or play.  Thanks to this reading list, though, I can finally say I’ve read The Master and Margarita.  And…it’s okay.

To get the really big complaint out of the way, I’m gonna talk about why I put this book down for a year.  There are chapters of the book that are supposed to be from the Master’s novel which he burned.  His novel is a re-interpretation (or I guess it’s legit in this novel) of Pilate executing Jesus Christ.  A neat idea, but those chapters dragged on for ages for me.  I couldn’t stand them.  I was much more interested in the dark and zany antics of Woland’s crew in Moscow.  Yes, the Pilate chapters are meant to parallel the then present-day story, and the two complement one another, but they just didn’t read that well.

Another problem I had was that the titular characters show up extremely late in the story.  I had assumed they’d be the main protagonists, and when Margarita shows up, she does kinda become the lead character.  Woland’s party are essentially the main characters, though.  In a way.  We rarely see things play out from their point-of-view, for it’s almost always from that of the human characters they’re terrorizing.  But, they tie the story together, and it’s their visit to Moscow that we follow.  I guess Bulgakov couldn’t really name the book Satan and Friends and expect it to sell well, though.

I pretty much enjoyed every other aspect of the book.  Margarita surprised me by how much of a fun and distinct character she was, and the Master was fine for his little page-time.  Seeing the snooty of Moscow get their comeuppance in so many odd and various ways was a delight.  I especially love the poor guy whose head was pulled off during the seance, but after it was reattached, he was never quite the same.  There’s also another random citizen who’s smart enough to believe the rumors and doesn’t get caught off-guard by Woland’s crew at all.  Speaking of Woland’s friends….

They are the true highlight of the novel.  Hella doesn’t do much, but I do love redheads and vampires/succubuses, so she’s great.  Azazello is somewhat the straight-man of the group since he doesn’t really care for Behemoth’s and Koroviev’s shenanigans.  His description of being walleyed, armed out the wazoo, and having only one fang easily sticks with you.  The two standouts are definitely the aforementioned Behemoth and Korviev.  Behemoth is giant talking cat with a penchant for drinking, smoking, wearing bow-ties, and destroying things.  Of course, I read his lines with John DiMaggio’s voice.  Koroviev almost always wears a checkered suit and a pince-nez with one cracked lens and the other missing.  He is so overly dramatic and lies just for the hell of it (pun intended).  Whenever those two show up, the book is at its most fun.  Woland himself was all right.  It’s a neat interpretation of the Devil.

Yeah, there’s  definitely a lot more to this book whether you want to look at what Bulgakov might have been saying about religion, the literary world, society at the time, or whatever else.  That does add to a book for me, but at the end of the day, I gotta look at how much I was entertained by what I’ve just read.  As much as I love this depiction of Satan and his Merry Monsters, a lack of real main characters and some pretty boring cutaway chapters made this book a bit of a chore to read.

Well, with The Book of Sawce finally back, hopefully it won’t take another year for the next post.  My new challenger is a book my mom loves.

What will it be?  Stay tuned to find out.