In 1929, Mikhail Bulgakov wrote to Joseph Stalin and asked to be exiled from the USSR. After a successful early career, Bulgakov found that his work was increasingly the target of censorship. His plays were no longer allowed in theaters and publishers wouldn’t accept his writing.
In a letter to Soviet officials the following year, Bulgakov laments that of 301 reviews of his work over the last ten years, 298 were “hostile and abusive”.
“The Soviet press and the agencies in control of repertory, during all these years of my literary work, have unanimously and with extraordinary ferocity argued that the works of Mikhail Bulgakov cannot exist in the USSR. And I declare that the Soviet press is entirely right!”
It is in this context that The Master and Margarita was written. The novel is a sharp satire of the elite class in Moscow, with many parallels to modern society. Much like The Brothers Karamazov by Dostoyevsky, the humor in The Master and Margarita has stood the test of time.
Unfortunately, Bulgakov did not live to see his work receive critical acclaim. However, a satirist at heart, he seemed to have a sense of humor about it. In a letter to a friend shortly before his death, Bulgakov writes:
“Some well-wishers have chosen a rather odd manner of consoling me. I have heard again and again suspiciously unctuous voices assuring me, ‘No matter, after your death everything will be published.’”
The Master and Margarita falls into the “literary classics” category of my rating system, and thus receives a well-deserved ★★★★★.