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Booking Through Thursday | Huh?

It’s Booking Through Thursday time.

What’s your favorite book that nobody else has heard of? You know, not Little Women or Huckleberry Finn, not the latest best-seller . . . whether they’ve read them or not, everybody “knows” those books. I’m talking about the best book that, when you tell people that you love it, they go, “Huh? Never heard of it?”


The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov is used to be a secret until I start raving about how this is one of my all-time top 10 novels. Several bloggers have graciously taken up my recommendation. They are either reading it for the ongoing Russian Reading Challenge or satisfying their whim for a good historical fiction. Whichever the cause may be, I’m happy that more bloggers and readers have found Bulgakov.

Set in the 1930s, the novel’s vision of Soviet life is so painfully accurate that, for fear of political purging, it could not be published during Bulgakov’s lifetime. The truths portrayed in The Master and Margarita are inveterate in society that key phrases from the book has become common Russian speech. Two closely interwoven narratives (although not very obvious at the beginning), one concerning Moscow and the other Pontius Pilate in Jesus’ times, make up this cinematic novel, which audaciously deviates from the classic themes (family, war, judgment of mankind, exile, politics) and respects no unities of geography or time. This reading, along with thoughts evoked from the past readings, dawn in me Bulgakov’s intentions and beliefs behind writing this novel that is so rich in themes and implications. The wotk itself in unique in a sense that it doesn’t belong to a particular genre–this uncertainty of its genre, along with the mystery, ambiguity, irony and humor–render readers clueless of what to expect from the book, which makes the reading all the more intriguing.

The runner-up choice is Maurice by E.M. Forster. I pick this book because the author is fairly known and famous but the book itself is almost unheard of. Very few, perhaps none of the contemporary gay fiction paints a more authentic, true-to-life picture of how a coming-of-age gay man is torn between his sexuality and the need to assimilate to social and cultural constructions of the “normal” than E. M. Forster’s Maurice does. Perhaps the fact that it was written before our time, prior to any of the gay activism and social awareness, renders it feasible to afford such brilliant verisimilitude. Forster does not offer any explanation nor attempts any effort to justify his protagonist’s queerness. The result is an honest, often heart-breaking and at times poignant map of emotions, inner-working of a tortured mind.

11 Responses

  1. Wow, I’ve never heard of either (or if I have, it hasn’t stuck in my brain, but no surprise there).

    Must go look into them now; thanks!

  2. I knew you’ll pick The Master and Margarita, which I have read at your recommendation. It’s such a rich tapestry of Soviet life in the 1930s, and yet the characters are so etched and developed that every chapter is a surprise. The underlying story of course is a poignant one that pays tribute to loyalty of relationship. Maurice I do have to check out.

  3. I was just talking about EM Forster today in class. You always remind how much more I’ve got to read…

    But for my favorite book no one has heard of–The Truth about Unicorns by Bonnie Jones Reynolds. I doubt it really is the best book, but it came at the right time in my life and I’ve read it ten times at least.

  4. Hey, I’ve actually read both of those!!! (Which I’m excited about, considering the fact that I’ve never heard of any of the other books people have been mentioning for this week’s BTT.)

    I read The Master and Margarita as part of a book discussion group that I used to belong to, and picked up Maurice back in high school when I was on my Forster kick.

    Great novels, both!

  5. I’ve heard of Master and Margarita but haven’t read it. Maurice I’ve added to my wishlist. Happy BTT.

  6. I’ve read both of those, enjoyed them both too.

  7. I have Master & Margarita on my list for the Reading Dangerous Challenge. I added it because you’ve always spoken so highly of it. I can’t wait to get to it 🙂

  8. I read Maurice 20 years ago, and it remains a favorite. I liked the Merchant/Ivory movie version, but it doesn’t quite do justice to the book (a familiar refrain, I’m afraid). I’ll have to check out The Master and the Margarita–thanks!

  9. Thanks to Matthew, I’ve come to ponder and appreciate THE MASTER AND MARGARITA. It’s a great book and I’ve only just begun to comprehend its themes. One of my most cherished recent discoveries which I will re-read many times.

    I read MAURICE very soon after it was first published in 1971. It was the first expression of the possibility of fulfilling love between members of the same sex that I had ever encountered–something extraordinary and extremely controversial for that time, much more so than today, though plenty of contention remains. Then, such a relationship exposed to public view could reliably generate very serious reprisals from various sectors of society. Also, homosexuality had just been quietly de-criminalized in Oregon, but opinion among the vast majority was hostile to acceptance–at any level. Nevertheless, the novel gave me hope that I could eventually find such a situation for myself, that mine would not inevitably be a tragic and desperate existence. I was also delighted at the prestige of the author and the artistry of the writing. To discover that my own kind of experience and longings had been deeply felt by another human being and put into words so powerfully was a turning point for me.

  10. Susan Helene Gottfri:
    I’m glad the post has pointed you to two of my very beloved books. Happy reading. 🙂

    I’m a bit surprised you have never read Maurice. What about Giovanni’s Room by James Baldwin?

    You know often time the book just hits us at the right time of our life becomes forever ingrained in us.

  11. T.F.P. and Crafty Green Poet:
    I’m excited that someone else has read and enjoyed both of them. You make my day. Hooray! 🙂

    Maurice is a poignant but beautiful book. Hope you enjoy reading it. 🙂

    I can’t wait to hear what you think of Master and Margarita.

    gentle reader:
    I can’t tell you how excited that many of the book bloggers are reading Master and Margarita. 🙂

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