Book Review: Diaboliad and Other Stories, by Mikhail Bulgakov

Publisher:  Alma Classics

Publication date:  This edition – 15th April 2015

Diaboliad My Review

Diaboliad and Other StoriesThis slim volume is bursting with four tall tales that are simply a rhapsody of random.

The characters’ often confusing psychological metamorphosis throughout is either a result of a mind of high intelligence, or someone that’s completely off their trolley. The jury’s still out on that one, I’m afraid!

The absurdities presented by strained Russian political situations in the early 20th century allow the plots to run riot, blitzing bureaucratic streets, oppressive workplaces, and the biting cold of uninviting apartment complexes.

A quick rundown of the stories include: a dismissed office clerk’s sulphur induced hallucinogenic doppelganger effect, the abrupt end to a tough regime that thrives courtesy of an insufferable building supervisor, an immigrant’s unintentional progression within the Russian army, and a surreal dream in which a man cons an entire province out of billions.

I can’t remotely fathom the whys and wherefores of the individual plots, other than Diaboliad and other Stories grips an ‘arrogant’ regime with both hands and attacks it with shrewd rebellion and an undiluted irony.

While Diaboliad (first published in 1924) was by far my favourite story from this odd collection, each tale was colossally chaotic enough to compel me to keep reading. After this taster I’d be intrigued to try this author’s further work, as the flash of ideas that rebound off the page are strangely engaging and utterly unique – ‘quirky’ doesn’t quite do it justice!

Rating:  3.5/5

(I received this copy from Alma Books in a Twitter competition they ran earlier in 2016. Yep, it’s been on the TBR a while!)

Diaboliad Book Summary

(Courtesy of Amazon UK)

In Bulgakov’s ‘Diaboliad’, the modest and unassuming office clerk Korotkov is summarily sacked for a trifling error from his job at the First Central Depot for the Materials for Matches, and tries to seek out his newly assigned superior Kalsoner, responsible for his dismissal. His quest through the labyrinth of Soviet bureaucracy takes on the increasingly surreal dimensions of a nightmare. This early satirical story, reminiscent of Gogol and Dostoevsky, was first published in 1924 and incurred the wrath of pro-Soviet critics. Along with the three other stories in this volume which also feature explorations of the absurd and bizarre, it provides a fascinating glimpse into the artistic development of the author of ‘Master and Margarita’.

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Diaboliad Author Profile

(Courtesy of Goodreads)

Mikhail Bulgakov was born in Kiev in May 1891. He studied and briefly practised medicine and, after indigent wanderings through revolutionary Russia and the Caucasus, he settled in Moscow in 1921. His sympathetic portrayal of White characters in his stories, in the plays The Days of the Turbins (The White Guard), which enjoyed great success at the Moscow Art Theatre in 1926, and Flight (1927), and his satirical treatment of the officials of the New Economic Plan, led to growing criticism, which became violent after the play The Purple Island.

His later works treat the subject of the artist and the tyrant under the guise of historical characters, with plays such as Molière, staged in 1936, Don Quixote, staged in 1940, and Pushkin, staged in 1943. He also wrote a brilliant biography, highly original in form, of his literary hero, Molière, but The Master and Margarita, a fantasy novel about the devil and his henchmen set in modern Moscow, is generally considered his masterpiece. Fame, at home and abroad, was not to come until a quarter of a century after his death at Moscow in 1940.

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7 thoughts on “Book Review: Diaboliad and Other Stories, by Mikhail Bulgakov

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