It's easy to throw the word masterpiece around but it's wholly appropriate in this case. The Master and Margarita was begun in the late 1920s and Bulgakov was still revising it in the weeks before his death, aged 49, in 1940. The novel was his response to the horrors of Stalin's regime but it was not published until 1966. Tremendously influential, it is credited as an inspiration for both Salmon Rushdie's Satanic Verses and the Rolling Stones Sympathy for the Devil.
Set mostly in thirties Moscow, the book has Satan visiting the city in the guise of the magician Woland. There he and his entourage terrorise the literary community and bring havoc to the population at large. The rest of the novel takes place in Jerusalem at the time of Christ's crucifixion and presents us with a tormented Pontius Pilate.
The book represents a challenge to censorship, a reaction to the suppression of the intelligentsia and a bold statement of artistic freedom. Had he attempted to publish the book, Bulgakov would certainly have been arrested and 'disappeared', indeed he attempted to burn the manuscript during one moment of fear.
But it doesn't have to be read as a political statement. It's brilliantly funny, witty, dark and surreal, the narratorial style is amazingly complex and the satire of communism is subtle and biting.
Truly, one of the best books I've ever read.