Cup of life [Cupa vietii]
Cup of life – if that’s even an appropriate translation – is a collection of short stories & sketches depicting life in Russia in the early 1920s. I always kept Mikhail Bulgakov on some sort of pedestal – because The Master and Margarita was one of my favorite books ever (and probably one of the books I really should find the time to re-read), so I was a bit nervous when I started to read this. I somehow think I wanted to love the book and thus be able to keep him on said pedestal. In the end, I’m not sure that I did, nor am I sure I can offer any kind of pertinent analysis. Sometime half way through I realised I was very much caught in the atmosphere, in the stories and, while reading The Bohemians I admitted that I loved this book…just not the way I expected. It’s nothing like The Master… (or maybe it is similar to it only in the fact that it deals with the same era) but it’s hilarious and sad and occasionally even jaw dropping. The last one especially for those who didn’t get a first hand experience of the communist age – or perhaps even for those who did, since the living conditions in Russia at the time (or even later, in the 50s) still could not be compared to Eastern Europe (in that they were much harsher). The more satirical of his stories reminded me of Ilf & Petrov’s The Twelve Chairs or The Golden Calf... And I kept thinking that in the US, in the 20s, books such as The Great Gatsby were written, where high-class girls attend parties in mansions, had affairs and took part in all sorts of social intrigues while indulging in the riches of the age; when on the other side of the Atlantic (well, further than that, I do know where Russia is on a map) the greatest excitement was finding a room to share with only your wife and children and not other families. They are contemporaries, but they seem worlds apart; it’s almost hard to believe the co-existed.
There’s a lot to be said – about the author and his relationship with the communist regime, about his private life (including his morphine addiction – which explains the terribly realistic Morphine) or his professional life (he was a doctor before turning to a literary career) – but many others have said it, and so much better than I ever could. I’m still fascinated by him, still drawn to his works, just as I am fascinated with the historical period. And The Master and Margarita is definitely one of those books that everyone should read. At least once.