Reading is everything
Some books truely move you. It may sound like a cliché but some books really change your life. This has rarely happened to me, but it is something I dream of every time I open a new book. Books are the best travel companions, so I always choose carefully when I pick a new book to travel with, as should you.
Something I have continuously struggled with is finding new exciting books. I have found that reading a genuine review from a person, anyone actually, helps a lot in the process.
The Master & Margarita
I first encountered Bulgakov’s masterpiece in a play. I was fairly young at the time, the cat Behemoth, a giant black cat walking on two legs stood out for me. Behemoth is fairly unpopular amongst his devilish gang, daringly Margarita does slap him in part two but I won’t give any spoilers. This cat perfectly sums up the absurdity portrayed by Bulgakov, because the book is absurd. The book is a political satire of Soviet Russia and takes place during the 30’s, which is also when it was written, yet it wasn’t published until the 60’s. After the death of Bulgakov, and the man causing the censorship, Stalin.
A satirical book?
Although the book never explicitly cast the Soviet Union aside, there are certain tells that are obvious for people who lived in the USSR. Something which becomes evidently clear with this is the writer’s society, MASSOLIT. These are writers who ‘accepted’ the soviet censorship and gave up their literary freedom to socially climb. This is at the core of Bulgakov, who never became a ‘successful’ writer whilst alive, ironically Bulgakov pleaded with Stalin to let him leave Soviet Russia, to be get his work produced. Stalin denied this, since there would be no use for a Russian writer outside his homeland. Stalin did fancy Bulgakov but could not permit his work to be published, this was a tragedy for Bulgakov. Hence, his literary attack on the MASSOLIT organization truly depicts Bulgakov’s distaste for them. Perhaps this is why Head of the literary bureaucracy MASSOLIT, Berlioz gets a gruesome death.
It is in the First book and the very first chapters you get familiar with the two settings of the book. Russia during the 30’s and the Jerusalem of Pontius Pilate, described by Professor Woland. This is a play on Christianity, the story is for those not familiar, the crucifixion of Jesus, who is Yeshua Ha-Notsri. Berlioz is having a conversation with a young Poet Ivan Ponyrev about atheism when suddenly a stranger arrives. This stranger you soon understand is the Devil, he makes the claims of when he met Jesus in his story about Pilates. Then the stranger makes a prediction about Berlioz decapitation. The exact events occur and confused Ponyrev whom witness the prediction and the realization of it. This causes him to go on a which hunt after the mysterious Woland, which ends in disaster.
I won’t spoil anything else in the book, except that it is not until the second part you are introduced to the Master and Margarita. The book is the devil causing chaos in Moscow, but this is another way of looking at the USSR government abusing their power. Bulgakov makes people in his novel disappear in a ‘humours’ manner, but in reality this happened in the USSR during the 30’s. This is during Stalin’s purge, where people for arbitrary reasons vanish and some never to return and others after Stalins death in the later end of the 50’s. Whilst in the book someone disappears inexplicably to Yalta, in reality they where executed or sent to a Gulag prison camp.
It is against this background you must read this book; it is a satire of its era, the peak of the Soviet Union. The book is filled with these tells for those willing to see it. Other than that, it’s humours in its absurdity. I particularly enjoy Ponyrev describing Behemoth riding the train, how absurd he found it that a giant cat had not only boarded but was trying to pay for its fare. The conductor simply dismisses the cat but shows no shock that a cat tried to purchase a ticket from her. This tiny paragraph Bulgakov’s magnificent storytelling, the surrealism in the events unfolding and the acceptance from everyone around also hints at his own emotions.
What is my take away from this book?
I really enjoyed this book, I thought it was fun to realize all the satirical remarks. But it is also complicated, I am sure I missed a lot of them. This may be different for someone experiencing that time in the USSR, this book would probably had been hysterical. Yet, it is considered one of the masterpieces of the 20th century. So if you are willing not only to put in a lot of work reading this brick but also looking up things which you find peculiar and you will find a deeper meaning.
Where I read the book
This book, I read in Amsterdam. I love reading outside this is easily done during the Dutch summer. They have a ‘forrest’ (which is honestly more a huge park) where you can swim, paddle canoe and hike. Or, have a coffee at the café! So give Amsterdamse Bos a visit if you are nearby. Fancy seeing some picture of it? Suss out my gallery.
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The title is a Beatles song and the story is about young Watanabe in his collage years. This book was the talk on the town a few years ago, but I never understood what it was about. Reading it, I felt as if it were an auto biography. In the end of my book, it does say that it is not but Murakami has based the book on his on life and certain events in it. This definitely contributes with the authenticity of the tale.
The life of Watanabe
The story is sad and dim. There is a sense of hopelessness throughout the book, no desperation. The book contains many tragic life stories being told through Watanabe, and all of young people. This is bizarrely mixed with Murakami’s famous eroticism. To his credit he makes it work, flipping a subject from depression and suicide to erect penises’ is not an easy task. Perhaps this is the very notion of youthfulness though, switching emotions. The reader definitely recognizes all the bare emotions portrayed, for better or worse.
As Murakami is so famous for, beside his eroticism, is that he incorporates food. Reading it, I suddenly had a great appetite, and I was usually in the mood for Ramen. Another proof on how talented Murakami is with hitting home in the readers’ emotions. He is very detailed in the food and its ingredients, he also gives a great feeling for the setting of the meal.
Final thoughts on the book
The book is not particularly eventful when you think back of it. There are not a lot of things occurring, its more Watanabe and his emotions. He is battling with his emotions, as a lot of youths do. Watanabe also goes through a crisis and works through it in a very realistic manner. The book is filled with suicide and vivid sex scenes; it does feel a bit absurd sometimes to read it. This book is set in Tokyo and it about Japanese youths, I found that particularly intriguing to see the similarities but also the striking differences I definitely recommend this book to anyone interested in getting a deeper understanding about Japanese culture, Murakami explains it seamlessly. It is not for nothing the author has become incredibly praised in Japan, particularly for this story.
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This book I read in Paris, I remember that I finished it on the Parisian metro. The last chapters made me confused, the last sentence leaves you with an eerie feeling.
Nothing is true and everything is possible
This book depicts a surreal reality, a reality for Russia after the fall of the Soviet Union. The book reveals the wild wild west of the 21 century Russia, as the title suggests. This is a country suffering from misinformation and where truth is a matter of opinion. But, Russia is full of opportunities and people are constantly changing their lives to the better. In this book we follow several stories told by a Russian journalist. The stories told in the book are those of ordinary Russians, their stuggles and successes. A unique way of looking at the contemporary Russian society. The book is light hearted and easy to read. It is like a real life satir of unbelievable occurrences. Above all it is an honest book and it tells the true stories of the people in it. Even if it tells the misery inflicted on the Russians.
Who is the man behind the book?
Pomerantsev is a man born in Soviet Union. But his parents moved to the west when he was an infant. This gives Pomerantsev a unique viewpoint of Russia compared to the west. He is known to be a Russian knower and is commonly interviewed on UK TV to comment on happenings regarding Russia.
His book is, in a way, an auto biography. The book tells the story of his Russia and the people he has met with. It is a beautiful and colourful portray of the Russian people and it is human. The language of the author is easy to follow and nothing is too complicated to follow.
Where I read this book
I read the book on a Spanish beach south of Alicante. It was a perfect book to read on the beach, mostly because it is easy to follow. The book feels diverse since it contains all of different stories. That makes it interesting and never boring.
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