The Best Russian Books in English

Forget War and Peace: this blog offers reviews of fun and interesting Russian books in English, links to their Amazon pages, interviews with new and upcoming Russian authors, with the emphasis on Russian genre fiction: LitRPG, science fiction, fantasy, thrillers, romance, mystery and other popular reads.

Monday, December 5, 2011

The Best English Translation of Mikhail Bulgakov's Master and Margarita

Hi all,

Sorry I've been out of touch lately, due to the fact that I've just come back home from the hospital and am now lying here in the lounge (the room closest to the bathroom) with a nice set of stitches across poor old me, which actually heal very nicely. In Russian, we have an appropriate expression, "he/she heals like a dog". The problem is, my nice comfy sick bed couch with its cushions, pillows and duvets now attracts everyone else in the house so in the evenings all four of us, including the actual dog Jack Russel Terrier, end up on it watching TV which leaves very little space for me... and I tell you, I've never watched so much TV in my entire life.

But I do heal like a dog which is a good thing because I miss my bedroom with its water bed. :-)

Now if I could only have one book by my bedside (and not this terrible box with Christmas commercials), it would undoubtedly be the weirdest of all Russian classics, Mikhail Bulgakov's Master and Margarita. It exists in at least half a dozen English translations, each with its own strengths and weaknesses, but I personally prefer the one done by translators Diana Burgin and Katherine Tiernan O'Connor. Although I have to admit that every M&M translation I've come across contains some factual errors and sadly, this one is no exception, it definitely succeeds in conveying the wild imagery of the original supernatural story.

Oh, and just in case you thought this was a lighthearted fantasy tale Bulgakov churned out off the top of his head -- it is not. A profound researcher and clever plotter, Mikhail Bulgakov made sure that literally every sentence - and I mean every sentence - of Master and Margarita carried bucketfuls of relevant historical and philosophical context, with hidden allusions to dozens of historical works and anecdotes. Not a single word in the entire novel just for the sake of it, if you know what I mean :-) Enjoy!

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