Self-portrait as Hella, a character from Mikhail Bulgakov’s “The Master and Margarita”

  • Illustration to Bulgakov's Master and Margarita
  • Collage woman artist self-portrait as Hella

Self-portrait as Hella, a character from Mikhail Bulgakov’s “The Master and Margarita”

(collage and oil on cardboard. created from recycled materials)

One of my absolutely favorite books is “The Master and Margarita” by Mikhail Bulgakov. It’s one of my oldest and dearest friends. This book is the reason I became interested in literature.

It was the late summer of 1986, a very tough summer for me. We lived in Kyiv, 60 miles away from Chernobyl. To this day I’m unsure if it was the radiation poisoning or some other radiation-related sickness that landed me in a hospital for over a month. Since no one could diagnose me they isolated me in a tiny room like a prisoner. Somehow I managed to survive and was later send to live with a distant relative to recover. There I accidentally found out that my parents got a divorce.

A few weeks later, (since the cat was already out of the bag), my father decided to take me on a vacation with his new girlfriend and her daughter. When the vacation from hell ended I felt more depressed than I was in the isolation room. To lift up my spirits my mom took me to Odessa, where a distant relative had a tiny house she allowed us to use for a few weeks.

I arrived there sickly, unhappy, and trying to cope with my world being upside down. We spend our days visiting museums and hanging out at the beach. However, there was not much to do at night, so my mom decided to start reading to me.

The book she chose was “The Master and Margarita”. Prohibited in the Soviet Union for being anti-Communist and immoral it was an all time favorite of the people who liked to think for themselves. They passed it like a cherished treasure between family and friends. Most times you were only allowed to keep it for a night. Being caught with forbidden literature was dangerous.

It was also a novel no parent in their right mind would chose as an appropriate reading material for an 8-year-old. But I couldn’t be more grateful to mom for knowing I could handle the subject matter.

I still remember the moment I heard the first sentence of the book, “At the hour of sunset, on a hot spring day, two citizens appeared in the Patriarch’s Ponds Park.”

That moment changed my life forever. I forgot all my misfortunes and found the most amazing way to escape reality. I discovered another world filled with fascinating characters. Each one of them, including Hella, managed to influence my life in some way. Essentially a witch, Hella taught me it’s OK for a woman to be uninhibited and totally unapologetic about it. She also taught me that coming across as a witch is a good weapon to have in a girl’s arsenal if you want to to weed out insecure men.