remarkable force in the novel which he considered the mainnwork of his life — The Master and Margarita.n* * *nBulgakov worked on this novel for 12 years, from 1928 ton1940, but it was published only in 1966 — 26 years after thenauthor’s death. Very few people knew about the existence ofnthe manuscript and still fewer—only the author’s closestnfriends — had read it. The novel is unusual. Boundless fantasynintertwines in it with serene reality, buflFoonery with profoundnseriousness, satire with genuine religious feeling. On the pagesnof the novel exist side by side Muscovites of the 1930’s andnmedieval witches and devils, Soviet bureaucrats, and Jesus ofnNazareth (Yeshua Ha-Notsri, as Bulgakov calls him), Goethe’snMephistopheles and “the fifth Procurator of Judea, the knightnPontius Pilate.”nAnd all of them whirl in the vortex of a tense, gripping plot,nat the center of which is placed a love story of a contemporarynman — the Master, writing a novel about Pilate — and hisnmistress, Margarita.nBulgakov’s novel is distinctively modern, yet one hears in itnthe echoes of Greek satires and medieval mystery plays,ntraditions of Rabelais, Goethe, European fantastic novels of then18th century. Actually, The Master and Margarita is a muchnmore “European” than a “Russian” novel. However, thenresponse it generated in the West cannot even be comparednwith the tremendous impact its publication created in Russian(although, as one knows, Russian readers are quite accustomednto great literature).nAnd it is not simply because the translations are of a verynpoor quality (by the way, they are, at least the English ones),nbut because the main layers of the novel are much closer to thencontemporary Russian than to the contemporary Westernnreader.nHere are these layers.nThe first one—Judeo-Christianity.nFor Western, contemporary, pragmatic man the Judeo-nChristian tradition has become so habitual that it often meansnnothing more to him than an old, boring ritual. It has become,nin fact, so habitual to many people that it often has no meaningnfor them whatsoever. This largely explains the current spreadnin the West of all sorts of fringe religious sects—peoplenfrantically searching for “fresh” religious knowledge and excitementnwhich, they think, the Judeo-Christian traditionncannot give them.nIn the Soviet Union exactly the opposite is the case. ThenChristian system (as, in this regard, all religious systems) existsnin the atmosphere of a dedicated annihilation — from thenphysical demolition of churches right after the 1917 Bolsheviknseizure of power, to the ongoing penetration of churchnorganizations by young cadres of the KGB, appropriatelynattired in cassocks and crosses, who, while moving up throughnthe ranks of the priesthood, at the same time, secretly, move upnthrough the ranks of the KGB. (As a matter of fact, observingnthis time-tested Soviet technique of getting inside religiousnorganizations, a heretical thought comes to mind—could it benthat some outspoken champions oi Western “liberation” theologynalso have shoulder-straps under their cassocks?)nWell, in all this grim reality there is a comforting aspect,nhowever, and it is that the Bolsheviks, in trying to destroynGhristianity and turning it into a persecuted religion, gave it, innthe Soviet Union, the strength, vitality, and appeal which cannonly be compared with the strength, vitality, and appeal ofnearly Christianity of the Roman catacombs. And anothernthing — in Russia the Byzantine tradition of Christian mysticismnmakes it even more attractive and meaningful to people.nThe second layer—we can call it the Faust-Mephistophelian.nThis is the spiritualism which came to Russia from the West,nparticularly from Germany, and which was as important for thendevelopment of Europeanized Russia as, before that, thenEastern, Byzantine spiritualism was important for the developmentnof Kievan Rus.nThe incessant German obsession — insatiable desire to getnto the heart, to the first cause of all things, to understand thennature of the Lord of Darkness in all of his manifestations,ncarnal, eternal, metaphysical—and, at the same time, thenfeeling of ambiguity of this all-powerful “Spirit of Evilnand Sovereign of Shadows” became a passionate Russiannobsession.n”You don’t accept the existence of shadows and of evil,”nBulgakov’s Woland-Mephistopheles tells Yeshua’s disciplenMatthew Levi, “but think now, think of what would your goodnbe doing if there were no evil, and what would the earth looknlike if all shadows disappeared from it? . . . Do you want tonstrip the globe bare taking away from it all the trees and all thatnis alive, so that you can satisfy your desire for naked light?”nAnd then the third layer — Soviet everyday life, the meannessnof which intertwines with such impenetrable stupidity thatneven the worldly Woland is sometimes lost.nFor the contemporary Western reader who hasn’t experiencednSoviet reality personally, a genuine understanding maynwell be impossible. As it is impossible, for example, tonunderstand from without the real meaning of these celebratednRussian gatherings of intellectuals in a kitchen (gatheringsnabout which every Western journalist who visits the SovietnUnion writes with such enthusiasm), when endless quantitiesnof vodka and tea are consumed, and conversations last till dawnnabout the latest work of Nabokov or the unpublished verses ofnMandelstam or the newest essay on Hellenism just banned bynthe censors.nHow different these gatherings are from the excruciatinglyndull parties attended by the literati, say, in Cambridge, Massachusetts!nBut then, in all fairness, this intellectual excitement,nthis remarkable sense of camaraderie of a dozen or so peoplengathered in someone’s kitchen somewhere in Moscow or innLeningrad takes place not because Russian intellectuals arenbrighter or better than their Western counterparts, but becausenin the Soviet Union there exists among people this keennfeeling—we and they.nWe are now sitting here, in this warm, tiny kitchen, andnoutside the black window are they. Our very existence isnentirely in their haads. The only thing they haven’t taken fromnus is our ability to think. In all other respects we are utterlynhelpless against them.nAnd because of that, one must be born in contemporarynRussia to understand fully the emotions that envelopna Soviet citizen when he reads, for instance, a passagenfrom The Master and Margarita, which describes how twonservants of Woland-Mephistopheles — one, called Korovievn(“Cowman”), a puny imp with a nasal twang, wearing a brokennpince-nez, and the other one, Azazello, a redhead with anwalleye and a protruding fang — are having breakfast whennnnJANUARY 19881 13n