Even when she was seated and still, Mona was a moving picture. Best of friends for years, we were separated by geography. Then by death.
Born in Cairo, Mona grew up in London. She’d studied all over Europe, spoke four languages and had a doctorate in literature. Her love of literature made her good at description. Like the protagonist of a novel, Mona was glamorous and her presence made the world around her seem glamorous, too.
One morning I went to visit her. Mona answered the door wearing an elegant mustard colored tailleur. “Where are you going?” I asked. “Nowhere,” she replied. “I’m just reading Bulgakov.”
Until then I’d never heard of The Master and Margarita (the book that inspired Mick Jagger’s lyrics to Sympathy for the Devil). And I probably never would have read it had it not been for Mona’s death several years later. Although we’d been out of touch for some time, I just couldn’t believe she was gone. It crushed me and, as it often happens when someone dies, things you never gave importance to before suddenly become important. The magical thinker in me somehow made me believe that I could experience a part of Mona again simply by reading Bulgakov.
It was the summer of 2017 when I finally decided to read The Master and Margarita. Initially excited, by page 25 I was ready to give it up.
At the sunset hour of one spring day, two writers, Berlioz and Bezdomny, go to a kiosk in Moscow where they drink warm apricot juice. Suddenly Berlioz gets a creepy feeling and feels the need to run away. But before he can do so, a transparent man appears before him. He is wearing a jockey cap on his small head and a short jacket on his long and narrow body. This is the first direct contact Berlioz has with the devil. The devil introduces himself as Professor Woland and predicts that Berlioz will die that evening. And so he does.
This is how The Master and Margarita begins. It’s the story of how the Soviet Union’s state atheism meets Christian philosophy. Part of the setting is in Moscow, part in Jerusalem, and part in places invented by Bulgakov’s surrealistic satirical imagination. It is dense and chaotic. Too chaotic for me. So here I will focus only on Behemoth, a pig sized black cat, and on the Master and Margarita referred to in the book’s title.
Behemoth is quite unusual. He is a shape shifting cat that can walk and talk. He enjoys drinking vodka, playing chess, shooting pistols, and telling bad jokes. But most importantly, he is part of Woland the Devil’s entourage. Behemoth’s most important role seems to be that of creating chaos.
Chaos has an important role in politics. Who is in power wants to maintain order and who is not in power wants to create chaos. This tug-of-war between order and chaos is the foundation of politics. To avoid the challenges created by chaos, many people are willing to conform and subject themselves to the established order. As it happened during the time of Pontius Pilate as well as during the Stalin regime. When there is chaos, there will be conflict. When there is order, there will be repression. Chaos and order feed off each other to keep themselves going.
In Bulgakov’s book, the Master is a repressed novelist who represents Bulgokov himself. Margarita, although married to a bureaucrat, is in love with the Master. The constant attack by literary critics leads to the Master’s breakdown. He burns his manuscripts then commits himself to a mental institution. Margarita is so in love with the Master that she’s willing to become a witch just to have the Master released from the hospital. Thanks to her pact with the devil, the Master and Margarita are reunited and return to live in their basement apartment. The manuscript that the Master had burned is now magically intact and Margarita begins to read it.
But the love story between the Master and Margarita is not fictional. It’s based on the true story of Bulgakov and Elena Sergeevna Shilovskaya. Although both were married when they met, they began a passionate love affair. Finally, in 1932, they divorced their spouses and married one another.
Mikhail Bulgakov was born in Kiev (Ukraine) in 1891. He started writing The Master and Margarita in 1928 during the Stalin regime. But, because of the political repression, he could not see a future as a writer. So he burned his manuscript. But apparently Elena’s presence helped him start writing again. He continued to write until just a few weeks before his death in 1940 at the age of 48. After his death, Elena swore that she would make his book her life’s mission. Impossible to be published in Russia, the complete manuscript was finally published in Paris in 1967. Elena died three years later.
Eighty-two years after Bulgakov’s death, censorship still exists. And not just in Russia. Following Queen Elizabeth II’s recent death, several people were arrested in Edinburgh for protesting the monarchy. One woman for holding up an anti-monarchy sign. Another man for having said, in reference to King Charles III, “who elected him?” And another man for heckling Prince Andrew, alleged pedophile.
The Queen, who ruled for 70 years, will be mourned by many British subjects and their grief is to be respected. However, respect should be reciprocal.
It’s estimated that the Queen’s funeral, which will be paid for by the British taxpayers, is estimated at $9 million. Why should the Brits, at a time when they are finding empty shelves at the grocery store, inflation exceeding 10%, and an 80% increase in heating costs also be expected to keep their mouths shuts just to placate the monarchy who live a privilege lifestyle?
No head of state should be considered more important that the people it represents.
Related: My Friend Mona + The Master and Margherita PDF + Margarita + Elena Sergeevna Shilovskaia-Bulgakova (1893-1970) +
Elizabeth II, the queen of Britain’s post-colonial influence + King Charles’s $440 million net worth is likely getting a lot bigger. Here’s how wealthy the rest of the royal family is + Revealed: Queen’s private estate invested millions of pounds offshore + King Charles will not pay tax on inheritance from the Queen + King Charles’s staff given redundancy notice during church service commemorating Queen Elizabeth II + Julian Assange’s short talk on democracy and free speech and the necessity to challenge the intentions of those who seek to control us + How Britain stole $45 trillion from India +
The War on Dissent by Whitney Webb +