Saturday, May 17, 2014

What would it be like to read Bulgakov for the first time now?

"I don't know if you have ever been in love. Really and truly. If you have, you're a lucky man, If not, I envy you like the devil, because you have the greatest adventure of your life ahead of you — perhaps. Do you know what I'm talking about? It's like with books. It was great to read The Master and Margarita at grammar school, but I'm green with envy to think there are adults who still have that ahead of them. I sometimes wonder: what would it be like to read Bulgakov for the first time now? Never mind. Anyway, if you want to reply: 'I don't know,' it means you haven't loved yet."
— from Entanglement, by Zygmunt Miłoszewski.

These are not new sentiments being expressed here, but I find this little monologue from a minor character in the final pages of this contemporary Polish crime novel odd for two reasons.

Odd thing number one: I love books. Sure, there are times I prefer the company of books to people. But I my love for books is not on the same scale as my love for my loved ones. These are entirely different orders of love; it would not occur to me to juxtapose them.

Odd thing number two: To read a beloved book again for the first time is a common enough wish. I've heard people wish this of Jane Eyre. Childhood classics, coming of age classics. Mind-bending SF classics. Simply it surprises me that the sentiment should be expressed regarding Bulgakov.

I read The Master and Margarita more than twenty years ago, loved it, but remember next to nothing about it. I've been planning to reread it — perhaps this year is the year — and in a different translation, it'll be as if I'm reading it for the first time. Won't it?

What would you like to read again for the first time?

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