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Black Snow

Translated by Michael Glenny with an introduction by Terry Gilliam

When Sergei Maxudov writes a play that—to his great surprise and the ill-disguised envy of the rest of literary Moscow—is chosen to be performed at the legendary Independent Theatre, little does he realize what he’s in for. The world of the theatre is dazzling and intoxicating, but Maxudov soon discovers that it’s also a byzantine maze of long-running feuds and truly monumental egos. Scenery is chewed, fits are thrown, and the show, it seems, just might not go on.

Written at the end of Bulgakov’s life, Black Snow, was based on his own experiences with the Moscow Art Theatre and its famous director, Konstantin Stanislavsky, inventor of Method acting. Newly available in Michael Glenny’c celebrated translation—Glenny was the first English translator of Bulgakov’s work and championed it early one—this is the ultimate backstage novel.

MIKHAIL BULGAKOV (1891-1940) was born in Kiev. Schooled as a doctor, he gave up the practice of medicine in 1920 to devote himself to writing. He went on to write some of the greatest novels in twentieth-century Russian literature, including White Guard and Black Snow. Though Bulgakov’s work was often censored, Stalin showed his personal favor by protecting him from imprisonment and finding a job for him at the Moscow Art Theatre, where the writer would work as a director and playwright for many years. He died at the age of forty-nine from a kidney disorder. His masterpiece, The Master and Margarita, would not be published until twenty-six years after his death.

MICHAEL GLENNY (1927-1990) was at one point a British army officer, an intelligence agent in Wester Berlin, and a traveling salesman for Wedgwood china, which first took him to the Soviet Union. He eventually became most well-known as one of the world’s leading translators of Russian literature, and particularly famous for bringing dissident writers to the fore, including Aleksander Solzhenitsyn and Georgi Vladimov. He was the first to translate Mikhail Bulgakov into English, and his translations remain the definitive editions.

TERRY GILLIAM first gained fame as a member of the Monty Python comedy troupe; he then went on to direct a number of popular films, including Time Bandits, Brazil, and The Adventures of Baron Munchausen. 

”This book is gentle in tone if fierce in substance… Implicit in [Bulgakov’s] holding up of certain aspects of human behavior to contempt and ridicule is a set of stubbornly hopeful values.” —The New York Times Book Review

”A delectable comedy… A book for writers everywhere.” —The Guardian

”The novel moves with mad exuberance.” —The Independent

”This is the book that leaves the great Stanislavsky with sour cream on his face… Wonderfully funny.” —Time

”Bulgakov was unique, with a voice all his own… Humorous rather than witty, horrifying rather than bitter, he was, in his daemonic fantasy and his uproarious laughter, akin to Gogol.” —The New York Review of Books

”One of the great satirists… Bulgakov is a master craftsman.” —The New York Times