Basilières Borrows Bulgakov

Jonathan Z. Ludwig, Rice University

Much has been written on the works that influenced Mikhail Bulgakov in his writing of Master and Margarita, but to my knowledge nothing has been written on what works have been directly influenced by this novel. True, there are Soviet- and post-Soviet novels that claim similarity with Master and Margarita, but this is generally a marketing plan to sell the book by linking it to a famous, universally well-regarded, and serious piece of literature, when all the book has in common with it are some fantastical elements and a political subtext; none stem directly from Bulgakov’s novel. In 2003, however, a book appeared that clearly has been influenced by Master and Margarita. This book, Michel Basilières Black Bird, is not Russian, but rather Canadian in origin.

Black Bird tells a fictionalized, but recognizable, version of Canada’s October Crisis (1970) through the actions and lives of three generations of the Desouche family, all living under the same roof in the Montreal of that era. For this retelling, Basilières borrows heavily from Bulgakov in his portrayal of an oppressive state governmental apparatus, a rigid religious hierarchy, both the petty and serious crimes of individuals, and the inclusion of a certain Professor Woland, whose specialties are theater and poetry and whose actions ultimately decide the fate of the narrator of the novel, a writer himself.

This paper discusses this intertextual relationship of Black Bird to Master and Margarita, explaining Basilières’ use of Bulgakovian themes and elements and theorizing as to why the author chose this novel, one not likely well known to his Canadian audience, to tell the story of the events of October.