Chapter 1

Never Talk to Strangers

[Nikogda ne razgovarivaite s neizvestnymi]

The title of the chapter has particular resonance in the Soviet Union, where talking to strangers could get one into trouble with the secret police. Few foreigners visited, and those who did were required to register with the authorities, stay in special hotels, and they were watched very closely. See Foreigners.

Berlioz and Bezdomny meet a mysterious stranger at Patriarch's Ponds, not far from where Bulgakov lived in the 1920s. It is important to know that while religious worship was technically allowed, atheism was actively promoted by the state.

Patriarch's Ponds




The Garden Ring (Sadovoye)


apricot water

bench facing the pond


Official Atheism

Philo of Alexandria

Flavius Josephus





the Stranger

Berlioz, Bezdomny, & the Stranger


poodle's head








"your relatives start lying..."

Our Brand

Mercury in the Second House. . .


Literary Gazette

Gerbert of Aurillac


poodle's head--in Goethe's Faust, Mephistopheles, the Devil character, first appears in the form of a black poodle. Click here for this text.

"your relatives start lying..."--This situation is an allusion to Tolstoy's Death of Ivan Ilich (1886). The full text of Tolstoy's Death of Ivan Ilich.

Our Brand--An allusion to the Auerbach's Cellar scene in Goethe's Faust. Mephistopheles bores holes in the table and offers customers whatever beverage they prefer. Click here for this text.

Mercury in the Second House. . .--The astrological predictions are correct and based on the Brockhaus-Efron Encyclopedia. The twelve houses are the twelve parts of the ecliptic. Mercury in the second house means success in trade, and Berlioz is certainly well-off, having brought trading into the sacred temple of literature. The departure of the moon having left the fifth house means Berlioz is childless (we later learn that he has only one relative, his uncle from Kiev). Misfortune in the sixth house means Berlioz is unlucky in marriage (we learn in Chapter 7 that his wife has left him). The seventh house is the house of death.

Komsomol--The Communist Youth League. Most Soviets became members, and it was a training ground for party membership.

Literary Gazette--A newspaper predominantly oriented towards writers and writing. The current version, founded 1929, has been an organ of the Writer's Union since 1934. It has come out at various times once, twice, or three times a week.

Literaturnaia gazeta is online (in Russian).