Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Reading. Bulgakov. (a return).

I had a heartbreaking conversation with a friend this morning, who revealed that he was fifty pages from the end of The Master and Margarita, and he just wasn't loving it. I think I let out a shriek, that noise you make when you watch your child's soccer ball get away from him, that slow-motion feeling as you fail to stop him from running out into the street and into the path of an oncoming car. I have loved this book so deeply, for so long, it was a shock to hear that someone did not agree with how it made me feel. Could I have been wrong all this time? It was time to go back, back to the beginning...

I assume a comfortable reading position, at the kitchen table. One leg tucked beneath me, the other stretched out on the chair next to mine. Is the light bright enough? There is a tall glass of mineral water next to me, a bowl of cherries. I'm good. The book lays at my elbow. We have come a long way together. At some point the cover was reinforced with transparent tape; now it is falling apart. I open the pages, slide into the first chapter. It is as I remember it, and within a few words I have fallen back into the past. It will take me a while to finish the whole thing, but I feel it is time to read it all over again. I have often gone back to the parts I loved the most, the chapters I almost know by heart (well, not quite), but I have not read the entire novel from beginning to end for a long time.

I wonder if part of what I love about The Master and Margarita is that it represents a certain period of time in my life. The people I loved then, the person I was was part of the transition between who I was before and who I have become. Falling in love with the story marked a change in the books I read, the way I read, the way I thought about literature. It broke me apart, turned me inside out; it changed everything. (I have said all this before). I did not find it an easy novel to love, but then, as you know, there are few things I fell in love with easily. Bulgakov writes long meandering sentences that seem to twist your mind, turn you around and around in circles, the interweaving themes and stories and characters like the complex, seperate, intertwining melodies of a Bach sinfonia. I used to read it aloud to my friends; I would be out of breath before a paragraph ended. If I had read it for the first time now, would I feel the same way? Would I love it as much? It is impossible to say. Now I feel like I was lucky to come across The Master and Margarita when I did, that I was lucky to start with the translation I have, which is more beautiful and lyrical than the others I've glanced through. It came into my life at exactly the right moment. Timing is everything.

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