Mikhail Bulgakov (1891–1940) has become the most popular Russian writer of the twentieth century, even though his works were banned for decades after his death, owing to the repressive censorship in the Stalin era and beyond. Julie Curtis wrote a first documentary biography of Bulgakov at the end of the Soviet era, Manuscripts Don’t Burn. Mikhail Bulgakov: A Life in Letters and Diaries (Bloomsbury, London, 1991: https://www.bloomsbury.com/uk/manuscripts-dont-burn-9781408842010/). This new biography draws upon previously unpublished family papers and Soviet Politburo discussions, as well as historical documents newly accessible from the post-Soviet archives, to provide an entirely fresh reading of his life and his works.
The biography offers an account of Bulgakov’s idyllic childhood and youth in Kiev, which was swept away in the turmoil of the First World War, the Russian Revolution and Civil War. It then traces Bulgakov’s professional life, and especially his absolute determination to establish himself as a writer in Bolshevik Moscow. It tells the story of his three marriages, his triumphs as a dramatist in the 1920s, and the tragic frustrations of the 1930s. Bulgakov’s great novel, The Master and Margarita (first published in full only in 1973), was written in complete secrecy during the 1930s for fear of the writer being arrested and shot. This biography reveals the intensely close interest Stalin took in his work, and how Bulgakov struggled to defend his art and preserve his integrity in Soviet Russia.