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Master and Margarita

Through a glass, darkly: Mikhail Bulgakov's novel The Master and Margarita is clearly brilliant and important, deep and broad, a great river of Russian literature. But in the foggy mirror of Richard Pevear's and Larissa Volokhonsky's translation that greatness is often tough to glimpse. Clunky choices of words: who says "interlocutor" or "physiognomy", not just once but in multiple chapters? Poetic lines stumble, e.g., "Love leaped out in front of us like a murderer in an alley leaping out of nowhere, and struck us both at once. As lightning strikes, as a Finnish knife strikes!" (from Chapter 13, "The Hero Enters") Please — a Finnish knife? Even if that's literally what the author wrote, it's not the right way to convey the metaphor. Compare the Michael Glenny translation, "Love leaped out at us like a murderer jumping out of a dark alley. It shocked us both—the shock of a stroke of lightning, the shock of a switchblade knife." Smoother, clearer, better.

And yet! — somehow despite the translation, outlines of Bulgakov's vision survive, at the magical-satirical intersection of:

For praise and perspective in recent years, see essay-reviews like Viv Groskop's or Jonathan Grimwood's or Corey Flintoff's. And see sites by Jan Vanhellemont and Sergey Litvinow for news, art, analysis. And the 2005 Russian TV version by Vladimir Bortko, available online.

And remember the most famous quote, "Manuscripts don't burn." And the perfect statement of faith (in Chapter 2, "Pontius Pilate") as Jesus answers his interrogator:

"I do not know these good people," the prisoner replied.
"Truly?"
"Truly."
"And now tell me, why is it that you use the words 'good people' all the time? Do you call everyone that, or what?"
"Everyone," the prisoner replied. "There are no evil people in the world."

Yes, and it's truly all good ...

^z - 2017-04-23