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A Letter to Booksellers from Julie Lekstrom Himes, author of Mikhail and Margarita

I first learned of Mikhail Bulgakov and The Master and Margarita from my father-in-law years ago when he was making frequent trips to the then-Soviet Union to advise on nuclear reactor safety. After reading and falling in love with this dark, sparkling satire, I read Bulgakov’s other works, including The White Guard, A Dead Man’s Memoir, and A Country Doctor’s Notebook, and in all of them he came alive for me. In almost all of his works, Bulgakov’s frustrations with censorship, as well as the inexplicable and arbitrary decisions of the theater industry, are evident. And as I read more about him, I wondered: who was this man? He was clearly a literary genius, yet his works were continually censored, his productions blocked or terminated shortly after they had opened—so why did he continue to write? Writing itself, and writing well requires relentless obsession with no obvious promise of success. Why would anyone do so under the very real threat of exile or execution?

Mikhail and Margarita is a literary novel in a very concrete sense of the word. Compelled by Bulgakov’s voice, and by his devastating concerns, I wanted to better understand them through fiction: betrayal and culpability, love and redemption, and the fragile yet indestructible nature of art. Bulgakov was one of Stalin’s favorite writers, but with fame came scrutiny, and yet in the face of crushing censorship, he was inspired to write his masterpiece. As I delved further into my fictional world, questions arose. In The Master and Margarita, the character of the Master is clearly a stand-in for Bulgakov, but who inspired the character of Margarita? And who was his model for such a complex take on the devil? In 2009 I started writing Mikhail and Margarita as a means of imagining the answers.

Mikhail and Margarita is my debut novel. In some ways, I wrote it for the writers of the world, but it’s for all who recognize the enduring value of art in society. Through literature we gain empathy—and with empathy, we can better combat the dark forces that operate in our world today, which, in truth, are not so dissimilar from those of Bulgakov’s time. In this, my book is also for you, for booksellers. We are fortunate in the Boston area to have many excellent indie bookstores. They maintain a strong tradition of author readings and discourse, and enjoy robust public support (myself included). Without you, the fate of any story or novel, particularly one of this nature, would be no different than that of The Master and Margarita which languished in a drawer for 25 years until after Stalin’s death. Without you, there would be literary silence. I’m grateful for all of your support, not only of me, but for all writers who strive to tell a good story. I hope you find this to be a good story. I hope you enjoy it.

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