Tag Archives: Stalin

The Master and Margarita: The Movie

Image result for the master and margarita

The Master and Margarita may soon be coming to a theatre near you. This is exciting news. Not only is Bulgakov’s magnum opus one of the finest pieces of literature/satire from the 20th century, but it’s one of my all-time favourite novels. The former point is relevant; the latter is obviously really, really relevant.

Apparently, Svetlana Migunova-Dali and Grace Loh have optioned the rights to produce Mikhail Bulgakov’s classic 1966 novel about the devil (who doubles as a “professor” and a “magician”) in Stalin’s Soviet Union, a talking cat, Pontius Pilate and Jesus.

Actually, it’s a miracle we have this book with us today. Bulgakov started the novel in 1928, burned the first draft in 1930, and by the time he finished a complete draft in 1936, he knew the government would become the same devil in his own work if he tried to publish it. Then, in 1940, so very near the end of a final version, Bulgakov died. Like Vasily Grossman’s Life and Fate, which also has an epic story behind how the manuscript survived and was ultimately published, it would take decades for The Master and Margarita to reach an outside readership.

This truly is the most uplifting news out of the literary-film world in a long, long time. Is it just me, or do theatres here in North America seem to be dominated by one of three types of movies these days: (1) Sci-Fi/Space/Fantasy (2) Animation (3) Cheesy adaptations of fondue-laden books that are vapid in substance and put the “less” in plotless? (Think of anything from the Twilight series to 50 Shades of Yada Yada Yada.)

In relation to this grrrreat! news about Bulgakov’s baby, Emily Temple (@knownemily) has written a thought-provoking piece for Literary Hub (@lithub) called “Who Should Star in the New Movie Version of The Master and Margarita? It’s Not Easy to Find a Charasmatic Giant Talking Cat.” In Ms. Temple’s post, she has cast a wide net on notable actors, including Adrien Brody, Sacha Baron Cohen, Janelle Monae, Mark Strong and Tom Hardy.

For all our sakes, let’s hope this optioning of the film rights doesn’t end up on the cutting room floor and that we can look forward to a movie version that does justice  to this timeless novel.

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Adventures in Russia’s Far East

I’m a sucker for good adventure stories, fiction or non-fiction. From The Count of Monte Cristo, The Arabian Nights: Tales from a Thousand and One Nights and Heart of Darkness to Herodotus’s The Histories, The Travels of Marco Polo, Jon Krakauer’s Into Thin Air and Robert Young Pelton‘s The Adventurist: My Life in Dangerous Places, they all have a jaw-dropping story to tell in far-off lands and bygone eras.

But not all great adventure stories are by famous writers or about well-known places like Mt. Everest, Timbuktu or Shangri-La.

Take, for example, Donald Clark’s Living Dangerously in Korea,  easily one of my favourite books on my second home.

Another example is a new literary work to join the ranks of awesome adventure stories, an updated translation from the legendary explorer of Russia’s Far East named Vladimir Arsenyev. While serving in the Russian Imperial Army, Arsenyev travelled extensively throughout the region from 1902-1930, subsequently wrote about his experiences in great detail, and, so I’m led to believe, in beautiful prose devoid of any hubris. (NOTE TO SELF: Does every Russian writer always knock it out of the park?)

Yet Stalin, in all his wisdom, thought it would be a stupendous idea to censor much of Arsenyev’s writing (the original books were finally released in Russian in 2007). However, it was only when a young go-getter from the U.S. named Jonathan Slaght recently retranslated the original account (written in Russian) of Arsenyev’s first book, Across the Ussuri Kray (1921), and published it under the same name through Indiana University Press (2016), that we English readers got a sense of what the Wild East was once like.

Slaght is now the Wildlife Conservation Society’s coordinator for Russia and Northeast Asia, and Michelle Nijhuis wrote a thoroughly engaging piece in this week’s The New Yorker about Ansenyev and Slaght (make sure you check out the photo gallery, which is almost like a journey to another world). If you’re intrigued about what a pre-industrial Russia’s Far East looked like a century ago – the only place on Earth where brown bears, leopards and tigers co-exist because the region was spared from being touched by glaciation during the last Ice Age – take the time to read this article entitled “A Fuller Vision of Russia’s Far East.”

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