The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov

The Master and Margarita is a heavy and weirdly surreal read, but it’s far more lighthearted and satiristic than many other Russian novels of the similar period. Mikhail Bulgakov wrote this book as a sharp commentary and satire on the communistic and atheistic government of time, top-heavy with government bureaucrats and processes. This book was actually banned in the Soviet Union for many years, and with Bulgakov’s sharp eye for calling bullshit in his country and his scathing tongue when satirizing the government and religion, it’s no wonder the bureaucrats couldn’t handle it. Most people who abuse their power in government can’t handle being satirized and criticized. Sound familiar? 🙂

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Anyway, the story is told in three parts. The first section is where Professor Woland (the Devil in disguise, with apologies to Elvis Presley) appears in 1930s Moscow with his minions, including Behemoth the black cat who is my favorite animal character in any book. He’s a real smart-ass, wears a bow tie, totes a Kalashnikov and dude! Get this! The cat DRINKS VODKA! Professor Woland proceeds to turn the Russian government and wealthy society upon its head as he asks aggravating questions, pisses off the Establishment and makes a nuisance of himself pointing out the obvious nonsense going on in society and government.

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The second part of the book takes place in ancient Jerusalem and tells Pontius Pilate’s version of the story of Jesus Christ prior to the Crucifixion, which is not at all what one would expect, and although this was interesting, to me it was the weakest part of the book. I guess it’s because I know that story so well, but it’s interesting to see how tormented Pilate is over his part in Jesus’s crucifixion.

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The eponymous Master and his mistress Margarita appear about halfway into the book, and are the third part of the story. The Master, a tormented and failed writer during the 1930s, has written a book about Jesus and Pontius Pilate that has not sold. Margarita, madly in love with the Master, makes an odd agreement with Woland in which she acts as hostess for Satan’s midnight ball and and flies over Moscow naked on a broom. Yes, you read that correctly. She is able to torment the horrible publisher who rejected The Master’s book and made him so miserable. This is a woman unlike any other – she is brave, loyal, adoring, smart and unafraid to use the powers of Darkness to help the man she loves.

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I personally liked the irony of reading this book – which you could also call “Sympathy for the Devil” on Easter, but since it’s also April Fool’s Day, it seems rather appropriate. Woland is a rather sympathetic Devil, and actually quite a just one, as he rewards Margarita’s love and loyalty to her Master and punishes wrongdoings and injustices, particularly those perpetrated by the corrupt and evil Russian bureaucrats whose greed and selfishness condemn them. One such bureaucrat, Nikanor Ivanovich, who has a rare and expensive apartment in the heart of Moscow gained by greed and illicit actions, serves his Chairman a rather delicious sounding meal before he is later arrested and punished for his horrible deeds.

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“His wife brought pickled herring from the kitchen, neatly sliced and thickly sprinkled with green onion. Nikanor Ivanovich poured himself a dram of vodka, drank it, poured another, drank it, picked up three pieces of herring on his fork….and at that moment the doorbell rang. Pelageya Antonovna was just bringing in a steaming pot which, one could tell at once from a single glance, contained amidst a fiery borscht……..”

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A spicy, fiery borscht! Oh yeah! But I held off on the pickled herring. One has to have standards, you know.  🙂 My borscht was a take on Elise Bauer’s recipe at Simply Recipes, which is my go-to website for many dishes, with my own tweaks, as usual.

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INGREDIENTS
3-4 tablespoons olive oil
1 lb. cubed boneless beef chunks
1 onion, chopped
4 cloves of garlic, finely minced
3 cups organic beef stock
1/2 cup red wine vinegar
1/2 cup red wine
3 large red beets
2 large potatoes
12-15 baby carrots
1 small head of red cabbage
5-6 bay leaves
2 tablespoons fresh dill
Sour cream for garnish

METHOD
Heat the olive oil a large cast-iron pot, and brown the beef chunks for about 5 minutes, turn them to brown on the other side, then add the onion and garlic, and cook those down for another 5 minutes.

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Pour in the beef stock, cover and cook for 45 minutes, until the meat is tender.

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While the meat is cooking, heat the oven to 375F. Slice the potatoes and beets into roughly similar slices, lay on a baking tray with the carrots, and pour over the olive oil. Roast them for about 30 minutes, then add to the beef and stock.

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Slice the red cabbage and add it to the pot, along with the fresh dill, the red wine vinegar, the red wine, and some salt and pepper. Taste for seasoning and add more salt or pepper as needed.

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Add the bay leaves, cover and simmer for another 30 minutes, until the cabbage is cooked through. The color of the beets will deepen with cooking and you’ll have this beautiful ruby-red potful of stew that begs to be eaten.

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Serve in bowls with a tablespoon of sour cream and a sprinkling of fresh dill, and optionally, an ice-cold sipping shot of Russian vodka, and pretend you’re soaring naked on a broomstick over Moscow………or not. Maybe just eat your borscht instead.

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11 thoughts on “The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov

    1. Thank you! I was quite pleased with how it came out. Very tasty, and even better the next day. I, too, grew up Catholic, so I try to read subversive material as much as I can to offset it. LOL! Another good book you’d probably enjoy is called Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ’s Childhood Pal. Yes, that is the title. It’s a great read, hilariously funny and poignant at the same time. And here is my take on it: https://foodinbooks.com/2017/04/17/lamb-the-gospel-according-to-biff-christs-childhood-pal-by-christopher-moore/

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      1. I’ve read the gospel according to Biff!! Lmao! Actually, I listened to the audio book of that one read by Fisher Stevens because he’s amazing and the book was quite amusing for us grown up Catholic girls! Lol!

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      2. Isn’t it just the bomb, that book? I discovered it about 10 years ago and remember literally laughing out loud at so many parts. I even recall snarfing some wine at a few key parts, too, particularly when Josh decrees that whenever something bad happens to him, bunnies will be around. Sad, but also just so hilarious! I’m giggling a bit now just remembering as I type. Oh dear, you are a kindred spirit, aren’t you. 🙂

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  1. I always hated beets, probably because I remember those gross canned ones from growing up. Also because the texture of the canned ones was like bad Jello. But this soup looks really good, and I love the color. Also looks very healthy with the beets and cabbage and carrots and all. Never heard of the book but I like the thought of a vodka-drinking cat since I have two cats of my own. But they don’t drink vodka unless i’m there with them. Hah! Good post!

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    1. Oh, that’s too funny about your cats and you. Not being a cat person, I can’t really relate, but my pug baby Roxy has been known to occasionally lap up spilled red wine. 🙂 Thanks for commenting and for your tale of canned beets. They’re pretty gross, aren’t they.

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  2. Looks good! I’ve always been curious about borscht but never had a chance to try it. This book has been on my to-read list forever! I read Bulgakov’s A Country Doctor’s Notebook because I loved the TV show based on it. Want to read more of his work, actually own this one, and, based on this, sounds like I definitely need to make time for it. 🙂

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    1. Thank you so much. I won’t lie, it’s not an easy read but it’s actually pretty funny and smart-alecky. I enjoyed reading it very much it took me about 3 days straight. It’s a book that can be read on many levels and with many different interpretations. I think to get the full effect, I would have to reread it several times. But for the first reading I enjoyed it as satire. Plus Behemoth the cat is just such a hilarious character.

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