A Modern Russian Literary Masterpiece: The Beloved "M and M"
One of the most popular books among Russians today is Mikhail Bulgakovs The Master and Margarita, first published in late 1966 and early 1967 26 years after the authors death. As I travel to Russia and visit many university campuses, I often ask Russian students: "What is your favorite book?" I am astonished at how many times I hear, "Why, of course, The Master and Margarita!" I know several Russian students who have read this book more than twenty times. Can you imagine? Do you know any American college student who has read any modern novel more than five times? The affection for Bulgakov is deeply rooted. One young Russian professor told me: "The Master and Margarita is a perfect book. You can not subtract one word from this book. You can not add one word to this book. It is perfect!"
The Author: Bulgakov
Despite the censorship and the humiliations that accompanied it, Bulgakov labored for twelve years on his greatest work, The Master and Margarita. Although ill and often suffering from nervous exhaustion, he wrote and rewrote this novel without any hope that it would be published--at least in his lifetime. He died in 1940. Twenty-six years later, Bulgakovs crowning achievement was finally published in Moscow and it immediately became an international best-seller. Now, more than twenty years after its publication, the books influence continues. What is there about this book which has led to such lavish praise and such heated debates about its meaning?
A Brief Sampler
"Forgive my importunity, but I understood that, in addition to all else, you dont believe in God either?" Woland asks in a hushed voice.
"No, we do not believe in God," Berlioz (the editor) replies. "You are atheists?" asks Professor Woland, throwing himself back against the park bench.
"Yes, we are atheists," Berlioz responds. "In our country atheism does not surprise anyone. Most of our population is intelligent and enlightened, and has long ceased to believe the fairy tales about God."
The conversation continues about proofs of Gods existence until Professor Woland says: "But what troubles me is this: if there is no God, then, you might ask, who governs the life of men and, generally, the entire situation here on earth?"
The young poet Homeless hastily replies: "Man himself governs it."
"Sorry," the stranger responded mildly, "But in order to govern, it is, after all necessary to have a definite plan for at least a fairly decent period of time. Allow me to ask you, then, how man can govern if he cannot plan for even so ridiculously short a span as a thousand years or so, if, in fact, he cannot guarantee his own next day?"
The first chapter concludes as Professor Woland leans over and whispers to Berlioz and Homeless: "And keep in mind that Jesus existed...There is no need for points of view...He simply existed, that is all... There is no need for proof, either."
A Sign of Hope
I find much hope in the fact that this book is still a favorite of Russian university students. It is in the richness of Russia s literary heritage, with its deep Christian spirituality, that a moral foundation can be rediscovered upon which the New Russia can be built. Western secularism is no answer. An enlightened and revitalized Christian faith, separated from the power of the State, is the best hope for Russia s future.
Dr. John A. Bernbaum