Never talk to strangers
Suppose you find yourself in Moscow and are a literature fan. In that case, you must visit one address – Bolshaya Sadovaya Street, number 10. But to fully understand my fascination with this place, I will return you to magnificent Russia, a century in the past.
Imagine the chaos, dissatisfaction, hopelessness, and fear of an uncertain future. Imagine the ubiquitous degradation of morality and corrupt and greedy people. After the October Revolution, Moscow was a dangerous place to live, and all those against the government disappeared in Stalin’s purges. Just after the revolution, a doctor and future writer moved into the dark world filled with undercover agents and spies – Mikhail Bulgakov.
The apartment at the address mentioned above was the writer’s home after leaving his native Kyiv. Although he was a professional doctor, Bulgakov was a dramaturge and writer. He started writing professionally after moving to Moscow in 1923. The apartment where the writer spent a good part of his Moscow years might have been less attractive to the hordes of tourists if a part of the story had yet to take place there. Master and Margarita, one of the greatest novels of the 20th century, is a grotesque, tragic story about human destinies but also about evil and love, which is greater than any evil.
Bulgakov created a complex work of art, a novel within a novel that brought together several literary trends into one whole. He significantly contributed to fantasy and magical realism in the literature of the 20th century. Jesus, Satan, eternal conflicts of good and evil, witches, demons, and many other heroes are in two parallel worlds: in 1930s Moscow and Jerusalem, 2000 years ago. Judging by the novel’s subject and composition, many consider that a satirist of the early Soviet era, Daniil Kharms, who had a surreal and absurd style, significantly influenced Bulgakov.
There are two museums in the building where the writer used to live, which are entirely independent of each other. Unfortunately, cooperation between these two museums does not exist, and rivalry is quite present. One of them is located in the famous Apartment 50. Although small in size in the novel, it can be unlimitedly expanded to accommodate all visitors to the Devil’s Ball. You will enjoy visiting both museums the most because the content is exciting.
If, however, due to the lack of time, you decide only on Apartment 50, pass the museum on the first floor, and continue climbing the stairs. The walls leading to the apartment are graffitied, including the image of the unavoidable black cat.
While this apartment exudes a real Master and Margarita style and has a magical atmosphere, the museum is dedicated not only to this novel but also to the life and work of this writer. In front of the museum, you can see a tram, where Berlioz’s decapitated head is located, and the statues of Koroviev and Behemoth. There is even a mailbox where you can insert a letter for the Master.
Although Bulgakov never mentioned it, the title of the novel’s first chapter, “Never Talk to Strangers, ” refers to those painful years in Moscow’s past and the period of obsession with espionage. Stalin warned the people that they were ex-devotees of the former regime everywhere and that they wanted to hurt them and provoke unrest in the country. They were warned that any conversation with strangers would be dangerous. The Soviet secret police would persecute anyone who engaged in conversation with them.
In this atmosphere, full of fear of the consequences of any “disturbances,” Bulgakov had a strong need to create.
Now you will understand the writer better. After being labeled as a counterrevolutionary, this courageous man began working on his novel, with satirical presentation and criticism of the communist society and the intellectual elite he wrote about until his death.
Many of his works were not published due to strict political censorship. They were declared unsuitable because they did not correspond to the ruling regime. This timeless novel, which represents the masterly combination of rational and irrational, is considered cursed due to its fate. The writer himself burnt some versions of the book, then wrote it again. Diseases, even fatalities, followed many of his theater performances and screenings. Even publishing had to wait until 1966, 27 years after Bulgakov’s death. Master and Margarita were preserved and published by his third wife. She served as a model for the character of Margarita.
I hope this story has awakened your curiosity about knowing Bulgakov’s Moscow better or rereading Master and Margarita. This novel has inspired many authors, not just writers but musicians. And if you visit this city soon, make sure that the tour of these locations is on your list; you will not regret it.
That’s all for now. Hope you enjoyed Never talk to strangers. For more stories from Europe, click HERE.