Thinking about “The Master and Margarita” by Malcolm Davies

Cards on the table, I have read this masterpiece only in its English translation. I do have a copy of a Russian language film of the novel. The film meticulously follows the text with no space for the director to exercise his imagination in his interpretation of the written word into a visual medium. Perhaps he felt it was not possible to omit anything and he had nothing worthy of being added.

After reading and re-reading it over many years, I believe that the book is far more than a Soviet-era satire.

Certain elements lock it firmly into place and time. The communal kitchen with its table covered in individual primus stoves, the foreign currency smuggling and the writers’ guild all tell us this is Moscow and this the Russian experience of the Twentieth Century.

However, looking at major locations and themes within the novel, I believe that it is an infinitely adaptable tale which can easily be placed in any European and many American cities. I leave aside the mystical element, already dealt with by Uther Charlton Stevens.  

The action opens with two writers sitting in a park bench on a hot day in the garden known as Patriarch’s Ponds. It could as well be The Luxemburg Gardens, Central Park or Hyde Park or any public recreation area reasonably close to a river. Soviet citizens’ fear of the potential repercussions of speaking to foreigners can be substituted for simple xenophobia, never far from the surface in our times.

Annushka can spill her oil on a platform of the Underground or Metro with the same dire result for the writer who is decapitated under the un-rushing wheels.  

The Writer’s Guild is a problem but I propose replacing it with a fashionable restaurant patronized by members of the art-establishment to which the dripping survivor runs, gibbering after his swim in the river. He is promptly “sectioned”; something that unfortunately happens so regularly it rarely provokes press comment.

One of the major motivation factors of the characters in the novel is the unavailability of desirable housing. Add affordability to the mix and we have the overwhelming problem in present day London, Paris or New York.

Muscovites look over their shoulders for the secret police. Perhaps we should look up at the surveillance cameras on the corner of every city building. People vanish without explanation – The Terrorism Act(s).

As for Weland/Woland/Satan’s performance in the variety theatre, he could equally well appear at a live comedy club.

To summarize, with minor adjustments, “The Master and Margarita” can speak with equal force to us today wherever we are as it did to the people of Moscow in its time – had they been free to read it.

Any film producers in the discussion group please take note.