“The Master and Margarita” by Mikhail Bulgakov features Behemoth, a big, sarcastic, gun loving feline who walks on two legs, plays chess, drinks vodka and hangs with Satan in 1930s Moscow.  Regarded as one of the finest novels of the 20th Century, it is said to have been highly inspirational to artists, playwrights, poets, filmmakers and musicians.  Legend has it Mick Jagger wrote “Smpathy for the Devil” after reading…  

The Master and Margarita

by JONATHAN GRIMWOOD

“Manuscripts don’t burn…” In my early teens, hating my school, hating pretty much everything, I was kicking around the rectory kitchen of an aunt who’d drawn the short straw of looking after me for half term when she sighed heavily and stubbed out her cigarette. In the few seconds that elapsed before she lit another, she stamped across to a small bookcase. Pulling a tatty paperback from a shelf, she said, “Stalin’s favorite playwright. Don’t let that put you off.”

On the front, a wickedly grinning cat clutched an automatic in one paw. The cat might have been chomping a cigar or I might have made that up. I took Bulgakov’s Master and Margarita out to a paddock at the back and sat under a tree. Within pages I was hooked by Behemoth, the cigar-chomping cat, Professor Woland, his master, and a droll decapitation of a civil servant. When the novel abruptly switched to ancient Palestine, Pontius Pilate appeared and Jesus wandered in, worrying about Pilate’s migraines, I realised fiction didn’t have to make sense. I could stop worrying. If fiction didn’t have to make sense perhaps life didn’t either. It was a revelation.

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(THE INDEPENDENT  6.28.13)