Why You Should Read The Master and Margarita: A Book Review

Why You Should Read Master and Margarita by Alicia Mara

“If many Russian classics are dark and deep and full of the horrors of the blackness of the human soul, then this is the one book to buck the trend.” 
The Master and Margarita is a novel full of political satire, dark comedy, magical realism, philosophy, and theology. It’s often called one of the greatest (and strangest) novels of the 20th century, and because of the book’s depiction of Soviet life, The Master and Margarita was never published in Bulgakov’s lifetime, and all of his books were banned by 1940. This was my second time reading this novel. I’ve been delving into Russian literature ever since reading Crime and Punishment in 2017, and whenever talking about this with others, I was surprised to find that time after time I was asked if I read The Master and Margarita yet. 

It seems to be a popular favorite book, and if you consider it high on your list, you would be among great company. Even Daniel Radcliffe had to say, “It’s now my favorite novel. It’s just the greatest explosion of imagination, craziness, satire, humor, and heart.”

Set in 1930 Soviet Moscow, the devil arrives in the city accompanied by an interesting entourage that includes a pig sized black cat that can talk, play chess, and drink vodka. This company quickly unleashes havoc in Moscow, a city that refuses to believe in God or Satan. In the second half of the book, we are introduced to “The Master and Margarita.” The Master, an author writing a novel about Christ and Pontius Pilate, and Margarita, his lover who would do anything for him, including becoming the hostess of Satan’s ball. If this didn’t seem enough to handle, dispersed throughout the novel is another novel: the story of Jesus’s crucifixion told from Pontius Pilate’s point of view. These seemingly unrelated plotlines come together to a very fulfilling and beautiful ending.

In such a crazy and unprecedented time, I think we could all enjoy a bit of lunacy. The Master and Margarita is a reminder not to take things too seriously. 


I have a love for philosophy, and this book spends a good amount of time exploring the meaning of “good” and “evil,” how they relate to each other, and how they relate to everyday life. This novel makes the case that good and evil are co-dependent and together give life meaning. It also explores other ideas such as what makes art authentic, love, belief, unbelief, all while pointing out the absurdity of Soviet society through humor. This book is also one of the nicest feeling books I have ever touched. Seriously.


The chapters with flashbacks to Jesus and Pontius Pilate are quite dense and difficult to read through, especially if you are not already familiar with the story of Christ. You may also struggle with this book if you do not enjoy magical realism. It is absurd, so if that isn’t your thing, you may not enjoy the experience. 


It’s no easy undertaking to read this book, and I highly recommend you get the translated version by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky. I have experimented and compared a lot, and they are BY FAR the best translators of Russian literature I have come across. Enjoy some of my favorite quotes! 


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