Mikhail Bulgakov

Mikhaíl Afanasyevich Bulgakov was a Russian and Soviet writer and playwright active in the first half of the 20th century. He is best known for his novel The Master and Margarita, which has been called one of the masterpieces of the 20th century.
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I first read Mikhail Bulgakov's The Master and Margarita on a balcony of the Hotel Metropole in Saigon on three summer evenings in 1971. The tropical air was heavy and full of the smells of cordite and motorcycle exhaust and rotting fish and wood-fire stoves, and the horizon flared ambiguously, perhaps from heat lightning, perhaps from bombs. Later each night, as was my custom, I would wander out into the steamy back alleys of the city, where no one ever seemed to sleep, and crouch in doorways with the people and listen to the stories of their culture and their ancestors and their ongoing lives. Bulgakov taught me to hear something in those stories that I had not yet clearly heard. One could call it, in terms that would soon thereafter gain wide currency, "magical realism". The deadpan mix of the fantastic and the realistic was at the heart of the Vietnamese mythos. It is at the heart of the present zeitgeist. And it was not invented by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, as wonderful as his One Hundred Years of Solitude is. Garcia Marquez's landmark work of magical realism was predated by nearly three decades by Bulgakov's brilliant masterpiece of a novel. That summer in Saigon a vodka-swilling, talking black cat, a coven of beautiful naked witches, Pontius Pilate, and a whole cast of benighted writers of Stalinist Moscow and Satan himself all took up permanent residence in my creative unconscious. Their presence, perhaps more than anything else from the realm of literature, has helped shape the work I am most proud of. I'm often asked for a list of favorite authors. Here is my advice. Read Bulgakov. Look around you at the new century. He will show you things you need to see.
I first read Mikhail Bulgakov's The Master and Margarita on a balcony of the Hotel Metropole in Saigon on three summer evenings in 1971. The tropical air was heavy and full of the smells of cordite and motorcycle exhaust and rotting fish and wood-fire stoves, and the horizon flared ambiguously, perhaps from heat lightning, perhaps from bombs. Later each night, as was my custom, I would wander out into the steamy back alleys of the city, where no one ever seemed to sleep, and crouch in doorways with the people and listen to the stories of their culture and their ancestors and their ongoing lives. Bulgakov taught me to hear something in those stories that I had not yet clearly heard. One could call it, in terms that would soon thereafter gain wide currency, magical realism. The deadpan mix of the fantastic and the realistic was at the heart of the Vietnamese mythos. It is at the heart of the present zeitgeist. And it was not invented by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, as wonderful as his One Hundred Years of Solitude is. Garcia Marquez's landmark work of magical realism was predated by nearly three decades by Bulgakov's brilliant masterpiece of a novel. That summer in Saigon a vodka-swilling, talking black cat, a coven of beautiful naked witches, Pontius Pilate, and a whole cast of benighted writers of Stalinist Moscow and Satan himself all took up permanent residence in my creative unconscious. Their presence, perhaps more than anything else from the realm of literature, has helped shape the work I am most proud of. I'm often asked for a list of favorite authors. Here is my advice. Read Bulgakov. Look around you at the new century. He will show you things you need to see.
This portrait of Moliere, by Mikhail Bulgakov, goes far beyond mere biography. The Russian master brings a kindred spirit vividly to life in this novelistic story of art and the struggle it demands.

Mikhail Bulgakov’s The Life of Monsieur de Moliere is a fascinating portrait of the great French seventeenth-century satirist by one of the great Russian satirists of our own century. For Bulgakov, Moliere was an alter ego whose destiny seemed to parallel his own. As Bulgakov’s translator, Mirra Ginsburg, informs us: "There is much besides their craft that links these two men across the centuries. Both had a sharp satirical eye and an infinite capacity for capturing the absurd and the comic, the mean and the grotesque: both had to live and write under autocracies: both were fearless and uncompromising in speaking of what they saw, evoking storms with each new work: and shared what Bulgakov calls ’the incurable disease of passion for the theater.’"

The life of Moliere, born Jean-Baptiste Poquelin, is a story of struggle and dedication, and Bulgakov tells it with warmth and compassion. Indeed, for all Bulgakov’s careful attention to historical detail, his vivid recreation of seventeenth-century France makes The Life of Monsieur de Moliereread more like a novel than a formal biography.

Mikhail Bulgakov (1891-1949) is best known in the West for his monumental novel The Master and Margarita. His The Life of Monsieur de Moliere, completed in 1933, was not published until 1962. Mirra Ginsburg’s translation of this neglected masterpiece will find a welcome readership among devotees of the theater and of modern Russian literature.

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