By Mihail Bulgakov
Imagine that Satan himself—in the very “flesh” so to speak—were to visit Moscow in the 1920’s. Just for the fun of it, he might choose to play nasty tricks on the inhabitants using his supernatural powers. Some of these tricks would be harmless, such as making people’s clothing disappear in public, or other trivial humiliations. Others are less so, such as living decapitation. And all the while, the denizens of the capital of world communism would be unable to acknowledge that anything beyond the laws of physics could be happening, because their ideology does not permit it.
This is not, however, simply a farcical comedy making fun of ideological rigidity. Bulgakov raises and deals deeply with deadly serious issues of religion and the spiritual world. Woven into the story of Satan’s visit to Moscow is a parallel telling of the story of the crucifixion of Jesus, told in a strictly realistic—that is to say, materialistic—fashion. The contrast between the imposition of the supernatural on a society that has chosen to be willfully materialist, and the stripping of the supernatural element from a story that traditionally has epitomized the presence of the spiritual in the material world, is the basis for this extremely unusual and very compelling novel.