What if the Devil showed up and no one believed he was the Devil?
Starting with this rather absurd premise Bulgakov explores Moscow, faith, religion, politics, the world at large and religion. Reading the book you are struck by the wierd thought that Bulgakov must have known that the book would never be published. This book must have existed for his own personal entertainment. And so it’s almost like exploring the author’s brain as he ran through different streams of conciousness.
Which brings me to the thought that the most famous quote in the book: Manuscripts don’t burn was an attempt to convince the author that eventually at some point the story this book would be published.
The book oscillates between the sublime, such as when he is describing the first arrival of the Devil, the surreal such as when the author describes the Devil’s ball, and the fascinating during the long sections when the author describes daily life in Moscow under the Soviets.
My favourite section, by far is when Woland does his little magic trick in front of an entire audience and spreads chaos and mayhem throughout Moscow. And everyone assumes it must be anything but the Devil. The money changing into random coins, tricksters and liars, the empty suit something bizarre in the atmosphere, spontaneous dancing and singing a group dementia.
The book ends well, even though it was never polished.
This is not an easy book to read and requires a substantive personal investment of time and effort.