Mikhail and Margarita

Mikhail and Margarita

Book - 2017
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A love triangle involving Mikhail Bulgakov, famed author of The Master and Margarita ; an agent of Stalin's secret police; and the bewitching Margarita has inescapable consequences for all three in 1930s Russia. A time when expression was censored by authoritarian rule, eerily mirroring the political suppression of today.

It is 1933 and Mikhail Bulgakov's enviable career is on the brink of being dismantled. His friend and mentor, the poet Osip Mandelstam, has been arrested, tortured, and sent into exile. Meanwhile, a mysterious agent of the secret police has developed a growing obsession with exposing Bulgakov as an enemy of the state. To make matters worse, Bulgakov has fallen in love with the dangerously outspoken Margarita. Facing imminent arrest, infatuated with Margarita, he is inspired to write his masterpiece, The Master and Margarita , a satirical novel that is scathingly critical of power and the powerful.

Ranging between lively readings in the homes of Moscow's literary elite to the Siberian Gulag, Mikhail and Margarita recounts a passionate love triangle while painting a portrait of a country with a towering literary tradition confronting a dictatorship that does not tolerate dissent. Margarita is a strong, idealistic woman, who is fiercely loved by two very different men, both of whom will fail in their attempts to shield her from the machinations of a regime hungry for human sacrifice. Himes launches a rousing defense of art and the artist during a time of systematic deception and she movingly portraysthe ineluctable consequences of love for one of history's most enigmatic literary figures.

Winner of the Center for Fiction's 2017 First Novel Prize
Publisher: New York, N.Y. : Europa Editions, 2017.
ISBN: 9781609453756
Branch Call Number: FIC HIMES
Characteristics: 375 pages ; 21 cm


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Mar 26, 2017

This is a book that could be appreciated on several different levels, depending on the reader's past experiences and expectations. It is first of all a fictional story based upon the desperately troubled life of Mikhail Bulgakov, author of the classic "Master and Margarita" a fantastical and satirical novel that was written at the height of the Stalin era. Like the original book, this one is dark, brooding, contemplative; in a word: Russian. At every step along the way as the story progresses, you know that "this cannot end well". The momentous failure of the Soviet experiment pervades every scene: The pervasive menace of the state security apparatus hovers, determined to squash any utterances, written, staged or spoken that might expose its absurdities to the light of day (as would Bulgakov's book if it has been allowed to appear). Himes infuses the story with the shabbiness or total unavailability of almost every comfort of life, from housing to everyday foodstuffs to innocent fun. In this drab setting, the love story at the center, far from offering respite from daily misery, seems rather to tantalize both the characters themselves and the reader with what otherwise might have been possible, if only we were in another time and place. This is a dreary love affair that provides neither party with any joy, they just stumble along.
Himes explores the inner conflict that torments Bulgakov; his guilt at failing to defend his friend Mandelstam is attenuated by his certain knowledge that nothing he could have done or said would have had any effect upon Mandelstam's fate. Replacing Mandelstam in the affections of Margarita likewise changes nothing. It's this fatalism that sets the tone for everything that unfolds.
It just occurred to me that this is the second book I've read recently that is a fictional story based upon a well known classic, the other being Mr. Pip, based on "Great Expectations". Neither book succeeds entirely despite the obvious talents and valiant efforts of both novelists. It strikes me that evoking the appeal of the model in each case is a very difficult undertaking; nevertheless, I applaud both writers for having the courage to tackle it.

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