Saturday, May 06, 2006

Memory (Reading). The Master and Margarita.

I first read The Master and Margarita ten years ago. It was springtime. That is, I read the first chapter, got completely confused, put it down, and didn't come back to it until a couple of months later. I had trouble following the characters, the conversations, the intricacy of Bulgakov's writing. I didn't know Vanya was short for Ivan, or about Pontius Pilate. Or the significance of various people and events that appeared throughout the story, the culture of repression, Stalinism, and paranoia of the time. That all came later. So I waited. August came, and I went on a week-long hiking trip. I only had space for one book, so I brought it along. On the long drive out to the mountains, at night by flashlight, during various breaks I waded slowly through, again, and the interweaving stories of The Master and Margarita began to take on more coherence for me, fall into place. I was getting the hang of all the names, the characters, the switching back and forth between modern-day (that is, 1930's) Moscow and its various inhabitants and the story of Jesus and Pontius Pilate.

I have said before that it takes me time to fall in love with something. This all started with The Master and Margarita. I learned Russian in order to read it in the original Russian (as a mysterious Russian man in a movie theater once suggested I do). It was the only promise I have ever kept. In this novel I found words taking shape, ideas presented to me in such a beautiful, extraordinary way that when I read it I slowly felt my heart shattering into a million pieces and my mind begin to catch on fire...I come back to it again and again, and each time I fall in love even more, I discover something new, both about the book and myself. I have always loved to read, since I was a child, but with this novel something entirely different began to happen with the way I read, with the way I think about literature. It changed everything. Later, other writers (Eco, Calvino, Kundera) would focus and clarify my thoughts on literature, why I read, what I love most about it, but for the better part of the past decade this has been my greatest literary obsession, my deepest love.

It is my beginning, and my end.

No comments: