Winner of the 2017 Center for Fiction First Novel Prize
In the 1930s Bulgakov was one of Stalin’s favorite writers. But with fame came scrutiny, and in the face of crushing censorship, he was inspired to write his masterpiece, a dangerous and wickedly satirical novel: The Master and Margarita. After the censors blocked it from being published, Bulgakov burned the only copy, eventually re-writing it from memory. It was passed around in secret until it was finally published decades after his death and went on to become an international sensation. The character of the Master is clearly a stand in for Bulgakov himself, but who inspired the character of Margarita? And who was his model for such a complex take on the devil? These are the questions that animate Julie Lekstrom Himes’ MIKHAIL AND MARGARITA.
In 1933, Mikhail finds himself in a precarious state. His career is on the brink of being dismantled, his friend and mentor, the poet Osip Mandelstam, faces arrest and torture, and a mysterious agent of the secret police seems to have a growing obsession with exposing Mikhail as an enemy of the state. Through it all, he finds himself falling in love with Osip’s mistress, a strong and idealistic woman who is always willing to speak out. While she attends dissident meetings, he tries to curry favor from within the political system while simultaneously retreating to his apartment to write his novel in private. But in a city where no secret is safe, the most dangerous thing in his life could be the pages tucked away in his desk drawer. Ranging between lively readings in the homes of Moscow’s literary elite to the horrors of the Siberian Gulag, Himes paints a sweeping portrait of a country with a towering literary tradition confronting a dictatorship that does not tolerate dissent.
Julie Lekstrom Himes’ short fiction has been published in Shenandoah, The Florida Review (Editor’s Choice Award 2008), Fourteen Hills (nominated for Best American Mysteries 2011), 42 Opus (storySouth Million Writers Notable Story 2008), The Massachusetts Review, Mid-American Review, Confrontation, Camera Obscura and elsewhere. Like Bulgakov, she is a physician as well as a writer.