Book nine: The Fatal Eggs by Mikhail Bulgakov

This was recommended to me because I enjoyed The Master and Margarita so much. The Fatal Eggs is short and nowhere near as complex as The Master and Margarita but it's an enjoyable read. A scientist, Persikov, discovers a 'red ray' that makes living organisms develop at an astonishing rate. When a mysterious disease kills all of Russia's chickens another scientist, Faight, decides to use Persikov's ray to restock the poultry population. Unfortunately it goes badly wrong.

You can read it as a comment on the nature of communism - a well-meaning experiment gone terribly wrong through ineptitude and arrogance - or as a satire on bureaucracy, the media and mass hysteria. However, it shares the same strength as The Master and Margarita: you can ignore the subtext and just enjoy a great story.

Bulgakov's prose is sparkling and wry and he seems to be having such a great time telling his story. The only weak point is the ending, which must have been hackneyed even in 1924. Hugh Aplin, the translator of my edition, argues that the ending fits what Bulgakov is trying to say but I'm not convinced. Aplin also points out that Bulgakov may have changed the ending he had planned because he was concerned about censorship, which is hard to argue with. Indeed Diaboliad, the book that The Fatal Eggs was collected in, was eventually confiscated by the authorities. The Fatal Eggs itself was republished in 1926.