Archive for Mikhail Bulgakov

The Devil is in the Detail

Posted in Fiction, Non Fiction, Reading List, Top Ten with tags , , , , , on March 30, 2011 by jaclemens

In preparation for my annual springtime re-reading of my all-time favorite novel, The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov, I delved deeper into the details of its creation. I began with Manuscripts Don’t Burn: Mikhail Bulgakov, a Life in Letters and Diaries, edited by J.A.E. Curtis, who had unprecedented access to Bulgakov’s letters, his diary, and the diary of his wife, Elena Sergeevna. This presented a trove of information to be mined and I took copious notes. Here is Elena’s entry on March 1, 1938:

“It looks as though Misha has now settled for the title The Master and Margarita. There is of course no hope of getting it published. Misha is now correcting it at night and is forging ahead with it, he wants to complete it during March.”

This stood out to me for two reasons: I wanted to complete my re-reading in March, which is earlier than usual (the story takes place on an Easter weekend in May), and the fact that Bulgakov set goals for a book he had no hope of seeing published. He continued to revise the novel over the next two years, but died in March 1940 without completing his corrections. The first significantly censored version was published in 1966, with more complete editions to follow.

I own the Burgin and O’Connor translation published in 1996, which includes the enlightening annotations and afterword by Ellendea Proffer (who has also written a biography of Bulgakov). To this I have added my wonderful professor’s insights, my own notations, and now the author’s (along with his most ardent advocate’s) declarations. Each additional detail, even if it be a discrepancy, adds to the majesty of The Master and Margarita. For my next re-reading I shall have to acquire the translation by Pevear and Volokhonsky published in 2001 for side-by-side comparison. My ultimate goal is to read a Russian copy that I possess.

To complete my reading I picked up Diaboliad and Other Stories, edited by Ellendea and Carl R. Proffer. I was primarily drawn to The Fatal Eggs, a science fiction escapade along the lines of H.G. Wells, but I couldn’t resist exploring the other early short fiction. Elements that would develop into full form in The Master and Margarita can be isolated, like Persikov’s red ray, in these stories inspired by Gogol (his favorite author). In this period of his career Bulgakov noted in his diary:

“As a literary figure I am making my way slowly, but I am making progress, of that I am convinced. The only problem is that I can never be clear and confident that I really have written something well.”

These early stories would have profited from keen editing, but Bulgakov was met with stinging criticism and severe censorship. The incendiary attacks drove him to despair, yet from the refiner’s fire emerged a manuscript that didn’t burn. It is the finest novel of its dreadful time, The Master and Margarita.


Directed Reading

Posted in Reading List, Top Ten with tags , , , , , , , on February 9, 2011 by jaclemens

I’ve challenged myself to read 50 books in 2011 and I am one-tenth of the way to my goal. I’ve been directing my reading toward books that will provide a jolt of inspiration for Grandpa Art; in the process I’ve discovered some excellent books on the back list such as The Life of Monsieur de Molière by Mikhail Bulgakov, My Name is Asher Lev and The Gift of Asher Lev by Chaim Potok, and The Secret History by Donna Tartt. My Name is Asher Lev has replaced The Historian on my top ten list!

The White Guard review

Posted in reviews with tags , on June 26, 2008 by jaclemens

Mikhail Bulgakov is one of my favorite authors, and this book has been on my reading list for far too long. I’ve had a copy of it for years, albeit a copy in the original Russian. I’m somewhat ashamed of the fact that I’ve allowed my Russian skills to languish to the point that I had to purchase an English translation in order to finally read The White Guard, but a little shame should never stand in the way of a worthwhile read! This story was known more widely in its play form than as a book (Stalin was said to have seen the play 15 times), just as Bulgakov was known better as a playwright than as an author, due to the suppression of his fiction by Soviet censorship. Before he was known as a playwright in Moscow he was a doctor who served in the White Army and specialized in the treatment of venereal diseases in Kiev. Likewise the character Alexei Turbin is a doctor with the same specialty who is also involved in the White resistance. The White Guard is largely biographical, as the Turbin family occupies the same apartment where the Bulgakov family lived and Mikhail practiced. The seven Bulgakov siblings are reduced to three Turbins, Alexei, Elena, and Nikolka, and it is through their experiences that we see the Socialist siege of Kiev during the winter of 1918-1919. During the Civil War that followed the Bolshevik Revolution in 1917 Kiev was occupied by the German army, the Whites or monarchists, the Socialists, and the Bolsheviks. The White Guard aptly and accurately depicts the upheaval and confusion that reigned in Kiev during this period. Bulgakov left Kiev and medicine for Moscow and literature in 1921. Through his departure from Kiev we are able to re-visit it nearly a century later in the pages of The White Guard. Art is the ultimate victory of resistance.

Current Reading List

Posted in Reading List with tags , , , , , on March 18, 2008 by jaclemens

White GuardI’ve finished reading the two books that weren’t on my list and just when I was about to start The White Guard by Mikhail Bulgakov along came another welcome deviation, courtesy of my intrepid Book Travelers West rep Phoebe Gaston! She sent me an advance copy of The Resurrectionist by Jack O’Connell, which comes out next month from Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill. Algonquin puts out such a nice selection I was inclined to buy everything in their catalog; it’s no wonder Phoebe is so enthusiastic about her line of work!

Current Reading List

Posted in Reading List with tags , , on February 14, 2008 by jaclemens

Sign of the Book1. Sign of the Book by John Dunning (a hard cover copy I picked up free at the university’s employee appreciation day)

2. Twenty Chickens for a Saddle by Robyn Scott (an advance reader copy; she’s coming to our store for a signing)

3. Gods Behaving Badly by Marie Phillips

4. Yiddish Policemen’s Union by Michael Chabon (the Coen brothers are making it into a movie)

5. White Guard by Mikhail Bulgakov

6. Golden Bough by James George Frazer

7. Orlando Innamorato by Matteo Boairdo

More or less in that order!

Top Ten Books

Posted in Top Ten with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on February 1, 2008 by jaclemens

There are many ways to slant a top ten list, but this is my straight up Top Ten Books list (arranged alphabetically by author):

1. Orlando Furioso by Ludovico Ariosto

2. The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov

3. The Hero with a Thousand Faces by Joseph Campbell

4. Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke

5. The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky

6. On Writing by Stephen King

7. The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova

8. The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien

9. Mila 18 by Leon Uris

10. Trinity by Leon Uris

While no individual title by C.S. Lewis has cracked the list (I have yet to acquire Allegory of Love, so it may still happen), his collected works are certainly among my favorites.