I found this to be a brilliant scene/ chapter. The first chapter begins with an introduction into the scene and setting, and the two main characters, literary editor Berlioz and homeless poet Ivan Ponyrev. Homeless Poet has submitted a piece on the trial of Jesus Christ, and editor Berlioz is chastising him on the story, and why Jesus is not real, and why he needs to alter the story to ensure that Jesus is portrayed correctly.
There are some foreboding or foretelling elements and mentions that are easy to miss at first read. The main characters are trying to sort out this fellow they just met, the Professor, who is making wild and outlandish remarks and surreal claims, and so they initially write him off as a crazy person. This makes sense, and as a reader, you try to reconcile what’s real and what’s perceived, and what’s magic or some other mystical phenomenon.
Chapter two is a sudden departure from the main plot with a story told by the main antagonist, the Professor (the devil), detailing his encounters with Jesus (he claims to know Jesus, to have been there during his trial with Pontius Pilot). Not coincidentally, this scene could and might very well in fact be the very scene written by the poet Homeless for a submission that editor Berlioz is lecturing him on.
Chapter three resumes the plot, in which the primary characters suspicions continue to rise. It’s not until the very end of chapter three when Berlioz dies a gruesome and sudden death do you realize that there is more to this story. The antagonist is not just a regular person, nor is he crazy. His nonsensical remarks are transformed from lunacy to prophecy and powerful prediction.
Up until this point, the main characters act as any reasonable person would when meeting a strange fellow who makes bold and outlandish claims. The narration proceeds with them trying to sort out who this fellow is, and humor him. As the professors remarks become more and more eerie and uncomfortable, Berlioz does what most concerned citizens would do, and decides to head to the police and report this man.
What is most fascinating is that there are these slightest elements that shed light on the actual situation.
The main characters are debating the veracity of Jesus Christ. Homeless Poet Ivan wrote a piece on Jesus that was satirical, and the editor Berlioz was critiquing him, lecturing him on how Jesus never existed, that he wasn’t the son of god, and so on, and Homeless listened intently.
What’s most interesting (in hindsight) is that the author made special mention that Berlioz has some type of psychotic episode just as they sat down on a bench (though its not immediately apparent the nature of the episode, just that its powerful and leaves Berlioz feeling very, very strange), right before he resumed his lecture on story of Jesus. It was right after this mention that an apparition appeared in the form of the antagonist, who the author would call the devil.
While speaking with Ivan and Berlioz, the professor/devil makes mention that the poet Homeless has been institutionalized for schizophrenia. It’s a small but important mention that is critical for the plot.
We don’t know the narrator, or where he got his facts from, but after Berlioz dies, and the poet is the only remaining protagonist, we must ask ourselves whether Berlioz actually saw the strange/professor/devil/antagonist, or whether this episode was all imagined in the poet Homeless’s schizophrenic imagination, and if in fact he was having a schizophrenic episode provoked by Berlioz’s adamant lecture on the falsity of the character Jesus.
I’m only a third of the way through the book, but the complexity of the narrative, and the psychological threading of these themes and subtle plot elements, is quite incredible. There are so many symbolic messages sprinkled throughout.
What happens when a man rejects the idea of Jesus, when he dismisses the veracity of Christianity, which has served as the entire foundation of western civilization, and provided a sociological structure in which humanity hangs and balances an individual’s psychology, allowing a proper and moral orientation of conscious experience?
I find it bold and brilliant that the author uses Berlioz to illustrate this point, and his death to symbolize the ramifications of rejecting societies religion, which can be argued serves as the fundamental basis of sanity, and maintaining a stable socio-psychological disposition.
I can’t say enough how awe inspired I am by the author (Mikhail Bulakov).