The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov

October 7, 2017 3:43 pm by Crocodile

The Master and Margarita
By Mikhail Bugakov
Translated by Michael Glenny

Translation is tricky, and as a reader it can be daunting to have to choose between translations, knowing you’re really only going to pick one. The Mirra Ginsburg one is the one I read, and I liked it, and it’s the one with the best cover, but Kate and James said this is the one, because on the second page it says “Just then the sultry air coagulated and wove itself into the shape of a man”.

A cursory follow-up seems to indicate that in a toss-up between these two, the scholars agree with Kate and James- if only because the Ginsburg translation is based on a censored text, so it’s incomplete. Maybe recent translations are better? Are recent translations usually better? The wikipedia page offers this one contrast between all current versions:

  • “I ought to drop everything and run down to Kislovodsk.” (Ginsburg)
  • “I think it’s time to chuck everything up and go and take the waters at Kislovodsk.” (Glenny)
  • “It’s time to throw everything to the devil and go to Kislovodsk.” (Burgin and Tiernan O’Connor)
  • “It’s time to send it all to the devil and go to Kislovodsk.” (Pevear and Volokhonsky)
  • “To hell with everything, it’s time to take that Kislovodsk vacation.” (Karpelson)
  • “It’s time to let everything go to the devil and be off to Kislovodsk.” (Aplin)

Maybe if you’re at the bookstore trying to decide on a translation, the way to go is to read one until you find a turn of phrase you like, then use that as a core sample.

The Rolling Stones allegedly wrote “Sympathy For The Devil” based on this book, and say what you will about the Rolling Stones but that song has one of the nastiest guitar solos of all time, one could even say it’s a coagulation of the shape of a man out of sultry air [youtube]. I remember the Godard movie about the making of this song to be pretty incredible, but I can’t remember if it was good. HR Giger made a painting based on this book, which became the cover of Danzig III: How The Gods Kill, although they covered up the dick in the painting with a dagger and a skull. A Danzig III documentary was filmed during recording but it currently remains unreleased.

Anyway, an enjoyable read, concerning the Devil. It’s not particularly spooky, gory, or ghoulish, but it is about evil. Relevant phrases from a synopsis include: mysterious gentleman magician, of uncertain origin, grotesquely dressed valet, fast-talking black cat, fanged hitman, witch, wreak havoc, literary elite, corrupt social climbers, and skeptical unbelievers in the human spirit. A good gift for a smart teen or anyone who enjoys reading and won’t be scandalized by Devil/Jesus stuff. I think this would be a great entry point to Russian novels, too- it’s not too long, and not too maddening, but it’s a little maddening, and long enough. I think I got this as a gift from James, it has his name written in it and some doodles. I really feel like I didn’t steal this but that might be a possibility 🙁


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