Moscow, 1930. The writers Berlioz and Besdomny are in the middle of a discussion about the existence, or better yet actual non-existence of Jesus, when they are interrupted by a stranger who tells them a story of how he was present during Pontius Pilate’s trial of Jesus. Then the stranger goes on to predict Berlioz rather gruesome death, which promptly happens. Turns out, said stranger is actually the devil. In the guise of the black magician Voland, he and his associates came to wreak havoc in Moscow.
I read the novel for the first time about 10 years ago and basically all I remembered about it was that I did not get this novel. At all. Unfortunately I have to admit that this second read just now really did not change that.
I wanted to read this book again for two reasons: for one, it irked me that a book that so many people think is so great seemed to be just plain beyond me. And the second reason was that I’m going to see the Simon McBurney adaptation during the Festwochen this year. Plus I thought that I might have not understood the book the first time round due to a lack of maturity, and I figured that 10 years was a good timeframe to try again.
But I’m still just as flabbergasted by this book as I was 10 years ago. I just really don’t know what I’m supposed to do with it. I didn’t get any entertainment out of the devil’s shenanigans. I don’t understand enough of Soviet politics to really get the satire [apart from the most obvious things]. Most of the time I couldn’t really relate to the characters.
The only parts that I thoroughly enjoyed were the scenes about Pontius Pilate – which were too few and far between. I did also like the part where Margarita enters the story and Voland’s circle, but the rest of the book just puzzled me – and not in a good way.
Summarising: I think I just have to admit defeat. This book and what other people see as its genius is just really not accessible to me.