After finishing The Master and Margarita you could be forgiven for thinking that no book will ever top it. That’s certainly what I thought after finishing Bulgakov’s masterpiece. The Master and Margarita has remained my favourite novel even though I must have read hundreds since I first picked it up. And while we continue to wait for a The Master and Margarita movie that does the novel justice, I will continue to read and read and read until I find a book that can match it.
The key components of The Master and Margarita that make it such a classic include the alluring surrealness, fascinating characters, imaginative settings, and the romance. There’s also a strong historical connection in the novel. Written and set during the Soviet Union, it forms a humorous and undeniably dark satire of Russian life at the time.
Many of the books recommended to read after this novel by Amazon, Waterstones and other big book sellers simply give you a list of other Russian greats. Yes, some of these great novels feature on my list below, and I think that understanding the history of Russia and how the culture developed is important. But why stop there?
5 Books to Read After Mikhail Bulgakov’s ‘The Master and Margarita’
These books were personally selected by yours truly. There’s no science behind why I chose them and you are welcome to disagree with my selection. I would love to hear your own book recommendations in the comments below.
1. ‘War and Peace’ by Leo Tolstoy
After the surrealism of The Master and Margarita, a jump to the realism of War and Peace isn’t as shocking as you’d think. In fact, I find that Tolstoy’s War and Peace is the next best novel to read. Why? Because it really gives a better idea of what it is to be Russian. This is a theme that pops up throughout War and Peace. The sheer number of characters that you’ll encounter also give you a much better background to what the Russian population was like, and the ideals they lived by, before communism.
So, consider this novel to be background research.
I know, War and Peace looks like a mission to read. However, I was pleasantly surprised by just how readable and smooth the novel is. With chapters that are frequently as short as a page or two, it has a great flow and uses relatable, understandable language (or at least, this translation does).
Furthermore, I realise that the idea of reading a 19th century novel about the lives of several upper-class individuals as they interact with society sounds very boring after the vividness of The Master and Margarita. But make no mistake, this is no Jane Austen novel. Set during Napoleon’s invasion of Russia (and most of Europe on his way there), it certainly doesn’t lack elements of action and adventure.
Ultimately, War and Peace gives you more of an insight into philosophy and Russian society before communism and provides an excellent contrast to Bulgakov’s novel. If you enjoyed the romance elements of The Master and Margarita and are fascinated by the Russian people, it is a classic that you cannot afford to miss.
2. ‘The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared’ by Jonas Jonasson
For a more modern option, I love Jonasson’s The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared. Like The Master and Margarita, it transports you back to another era and provides a historical backdrop for the events of the main character. Another similarity is the pace of the story. Just as The Master and Margarita takes you through the streets of Moscow on chaotic chases, Jonasson’s novel has that similar feel of a fast-paced adventure.
If your favourite aspects of The Master and Margarita were the adventures of Woland and Co., as well as the dark satire, then this novel checks those boxes. However, Jonasson will take you further afield on the history front and drops a lot of the surrealism. Instead, it is decidedly more light-hearted and will have you chuckling with delight at several satirical conundrums that the hundred-year-old-man navigates.
So, I recommend The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared for anyone fascinated by history but not interested in “boring” classics and textbook-like accounts of historical events. This is actually the first novel in a series too.
3. ‘The Metamorphosis’ by Franz Kafka
The Metamorphosis is considered to be Franz Kafka’s best novel – or at least, it’s his most well-known. This is a short novel, so a good choice if you want a lighter bite after War and Peace or The Master and Margarita. Published in 1915, the novel falls into the weird and surreal category. In fact, it is so surreal it makes The Master and Margarita seem positively sane.
If the wackiness of The Master and Margarita appealed to you, then this is also a great novel to choose. There also other overlapping themes – Kafka’s novel really taps into existential anxiety and social alienation, which I always feel are super relevant to understanding the context of life in Stalin’s Russia too.
But there are also key differences. Gone is the humour and satire, making more room for morbid fascination and deeper philosophical veins that might keep you up all night. If the cheeriness of The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared doesn’t appeal to you, then The Metamorphosis could be a better fit.
4. ‘The Phantom of the Opera’ by Gaston Leroux
After watching and loving the film version of this novel, I couldn’t wait to read it. And while it is decidedly more creepy and less romantic than the film version, I loved it too regardless. The Phantom of the Opera by Gaston Leroux (translated into English) is a French gothic novel from the early 20th century. The Master and Margarita doesn’t typically fall into the gothic category. However, it certainly has enough darkness and overlapping vibes, if not entire themes.
If you truly enjoyed the darkness of The Master and Margarita and are a fan of other gothic novels (Frankenstein is another I highly recommend, although it’s not really related to The Master and Margarita at all), then it is worth reading.
Is it romantic? In a dark and tragic way, yes. Whether it ends with a happy ending… well, I won’t spoil it here just in case you haven’t seen the film version. Like The Master and Margarita, War and Peace, and The Metamorphosis, The Phantom of the Opera is a vintage classic.
5. ‘After Me Comes the Flood’ by Sarah Perry
Disclaimer: this is definitely not the best novel that this author has written. In fact, it was Perry’s first novel and has flaws in both the story and the writing. Several Amazon reviews note that the writing is sloppy, and I find myself agreeing with that. But the novel was still strangely charming and certainly held my interest. It is a decent choice for what to read after The Master and Margarita.
Without giving too much away, the novel is something of a puzzle with many loose ends that are slowly tied together… and many that aren’t tied up at all. The ensemble of characters is bizarre and although not entirely likable, they are certainly fascinating. That’s really the similarity to Bulgakov’s novel. Reading After Me Comes the Flood drops you into a bizarre and weird world where things aren’t quite what they seem.
The novel really delves into the detail, giving thorough descriptions of the most minute details. That will either spark your imagination or leave you feel frustrated at the slow pace and focus on aspects that really don’t matter for the story.
After Me Comes the Flood is a bit of an enigma. But it will hopefully introduce you to one of the up-and-coming authors in the world right now.
What to Read After The Master and Margarita!
And that concludes my list of what to read after The Master and Margarita! All of these novels are widely available around the world and have been translated into numerous languages. You can find them all on Amazon – I recommend checking if there are used books for sale before purchasing new. This usually saves you money and reduces waste too.
If you have any additional novel suggestions, let me know in the comments below.