Review of two books, a comparison
Review of two books, *The Master and Margarita & *The Unbearable Lightness of Being. Similarities and differences. Each of these titles emanated from the communist block; one yoked to 1930s Moscow, the other to late 1960s Prague. They express the lighter and heavier sides of the human condition, respectively. I’ll tell you now that both are ⭐⭐⭐⭐ books – probably around 4.3 to be precise!
Some may find The Master and Margarita too long (the second half waxes particularly zany). As with Kundera, here is a striking contribution to 20th-century literature. This is satire at its peak, with funny scenes galore. It may be highly imaginative fantasy, but it’s firmly realist about human nature, not remotely idealist. Full of lively characters, Margarita is especially appealing. Old Nick shows up in Moscow and bedlam ensues. The Devil here is a literary device more in the mode of Loki the trickster than a nefarious opponent of deity. Absurdity is used as a parody of the human condition, specifically in the context of Bulgakov’s 1930s Russia.
Here is a serious subject lightened by humour. Essentially interconnected shorts, this book won’t suit everyone’s taste, but if you fancy something alternative which opens a window into pre-WW2 Russian culture, you could do much worse. Highly entertaining.
Milan Kundera, writing over three decades after Bulgakov, approaches lightness and heaviness not through humour so much as poignancy. He poses the question of whether lightness or heaviness is to be preferred in human experience, in the context of repeating themes we endlessly re-encounter. Here is beautiful and evocative writing in chunks which move to and fro between the main story and sub-plots, interspersed with philosophical reflections. Kundera weaves them together expertly.
Despite it being deep, don’t run! You get ‘You Only Live Once’ ideas expressed through trials of characters in late 60s Czechoslovakia. Each one a lens into life, love and uniqueness through adversity. A truly riveting work grounded deeply in lived lives. There is originality here, different to Bulgakov’s, yet equally striking. Both have the wow factor.
Highly recommended for those wishing to swim deep.
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The Master and Margarita and The Unbearable Lightness of Being