"Margarita-love and destroy"

I just finished Mikhail Bulgakov's novel The Master and Margarita. I feel a bit intoxicated from it; I want to turn back and reread it with more care and attention. This first time through was mostly for plot. I had to struggle with who was who and how they were connected. I still don't understand all of the connections and relations. I need to let the book settle within me a bit, but I want to include some enticements and some support for the curious reader.

Margarita's flight:
Margarita gave the broom another upward prod, and the mass of rooftops fell away, replaced by a lake of quivering electric lights. Suddenly this lake rose up vertically, and then appeared above Margarita's head, while the moon shone beneath her feet. Realizing that she had turned a somersault, she resumed her normal position, and when she turned to look, she saw that the lake was no longer there and that in the distance behind her there remained only a rosy glow on the horizon. A second later and it, too, had vanished, and Margarita saw that she was alone with the moon, which was flying above her to her left. Margarita's hair continued to stand up like a haystack, and the moonlight whistled as it washed over her body. Judging by how two rows of widely spaced lights below had merged into two unbroken fiery lines, and by how rapidly they vanished behind her, Margarita surmised that she was traveling at monstrous speed and was amazed that she was not gasping for breath.

The Queen:
The march was being played in Margarita's honor. She was given the most gala reception. Diaphanous mermaids stopped their round dance over the river and waved to Margarita with seaweed. Their moaning salutations carried out over the deserted, greenish shore and could be heard from far away. Naked witches jumped out from behind the willows, formed a line, and began to bow and curtsy in courtly fashion. A goat-legged creature rushed up to Margarita and kissed her hand. Spreading silk on the grass, he inquired whether the queen had enjoyed her swim, and suggested that she lie down and rest.

Satan's ball:
Margarita's head began to spin from the smell of the wine, and she was about to leave when the cat performed a trick in the pool which detained her. Behemoth cast a spell on something near the maw of  Neptune, and hissing and bubbling, the bubbly sea of champagne drained from the pool at once, and Neptune started spewing forth a foamless, bubble-less, dark-amber wave. The ladies shrieked and squealed, "Brandy!"--as they rushed away from the edges of the pool and took refuge behind the columns. The pool was filled in a few seconds, and the cat, after turning three somersaults in the air, landed in the billowing brandy. He crawled out, shaking himself off, his necktie shrunk, his opera glasses, and the gilt on his whiskers gone.

The Moon:
Night began covering the forests and meadows with its black kerchief. The night ignited sad little lights somewhere far below, alien lights that were no longer of any interest or use either to Margarita or the Master. Night overtook the cavalcade, spreading over them from above and scattering white specks of stars here and there in the saddened sky.
Night was thickening, flying alongside the riders, grabbing at their cloaks and pulling them off, unmasking all illusions... And when the crimson full moon rose up to meet them from behind the edge of the forest, all illusions vanished and the magical, mutable clothing fell into the swamp and drowned in the mist.

Cast of characters (I compiled this for my own sanity while reading. It is not exhaustive and may not be 100% correct):

Berlioz: literary editor (Mikhail Alexandrovich Berlioz or Misha)
Ivan: poet (Ivan Nikolayevich Ponyrov or Bezdomny)
Rimsky: financial director of theater
Varenukha: theater manager (Ivan Savelyevich)
Latunsky: the Master's editor
Styopa: theater employee; Berlioz's roommate (also Likehodeyev)
Andrei Fokich: bartender at Variety Theater
Vasily Stepanovich Lastochkin: bookkeeper of theater
Prokhor Petrovich: chairman of the commission
Anna Richardovna: Petrovich's secretary
Nikanor Ivanovich Bosoi: chairman of the house committee
Maximilian Andreyevich Poplavsky: Berlioz's uncle
Woland: Satan
Korovyo: black magician, Woland's retinue
Hella: Woland's witch
Abaddon: figure Woland's retinue
Behemoth: the cat; Woland's retinue
Azazello: Woland's assistant
Natalya: Margarita's maid
Nikolai Ivanovich: Margarita's downstairs neighbor


  1. that book sounds intense. i sometimes have trouble remembering which characters are which and how they relate to each other, too--especially if the names are unfamiliar. it's frustrating. writing out a cast of characters is a good idea.

  2. Yes. Yesterday at book club we talked about strategies for dealing with a tough read, like re-reading, taking notes, reading summaries on line, and self-forgiveness. Sometimes, when reading something difficult, it's important to read for plot and forgive yourself for not understanding subtext, otherwise you might just drive yourself crazy and give up.