The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Buglakov

Feb. 22: Washington, DC: I don’t remember too clearly my first reading of The Master and Margarita. I recall the beginning bits quite vividly (the streetcar, the black magic performance, the appearance of the Master in the mental institution). But going into this I was pretty fuzzy on what else happened. This ended up making for delightful experience. There was an enormous joy in reading a somewhat new book with a sterling recommendation (myself, a decade ago).

I love a Jesus story and particularly one that pushes against the myth with historical detail. It’s a theme I’ve often explored in my own writing and finding it here in the Pontius Pilate story was lovely. I also adore a tale with a little moral ambiguity thrown in. Despite the fact that the Master (our hero) is presented first as an antagonist to Satan, in the end they’re allies. Margarita is a willing Queen Margot and she and Satan’s retinue ride off into the sunset together. I loved the little jokes of “the devil knows” or “in heaven’s name” sprinkled throughout the story without comment.

As with The Crying of Lot 49, this book came with surprises tucked between the pages from Jill’s first reading. A ticket stub for her first flight to Louisiana to meet my family. One of her to-do lists from the same time. This has been a wonderful addition to this project, the re-discovery of lost artifacts.

There is one anecdote in my memory connected with The Master and Margarita, but it has nothing to do with reading the book at all. My first read happened while I was in film school in LA. I remember wanting so badly to turn this book into a screenplay. Great story, great visuals, lots of surreal fun. But mostly, I wanted to cast my friend Rachel’s dad as the voice of Behemoth the cat (he’d previously played Roger Rabbit). My life is littered with big schemes like this come to naught. Ideas are fun, execution takes time. And most, like writing a screenplay from The Master and Margarita, are grand ambitions probably better left unrealized.

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