On Bulgakov and Dangerous Liaisons

By Travis Lyle a.k.a DJ Hedmekanik

‘Don’t judge a book by its cover.’
Hmmm. Not so sure about these hoary old chestnuts. Some of them have led me down the garden path and up Shit Creek. May be best to let sleeping metaphors lie.
In the haze of memory I can still recall a time when my Gran’s books had…well, not much on them, save for some gold lettering and the telltale signs of use: worn leather, oil spots and smudged fingerprints. ‘First Footsteps in East Africa.’ by Burton. ‘How I Found Livingstone.’ by Henry Morton Stanley. Honky literature, popular down Mzansi way in the dying light of post-colonialism. But apart from the lettering, you got jack shit, unless it your taste was more Mills & Boon or some other trashy pulp that over-promised and under-delivered: all hirsute heroes and buxom damsels in distress on the outside, but sorely lacking in explicit sex scenes on the in, which, as a kid, is all you’re really interested in; what a let down. But she never had any of those, my Gran. Hell no. The explorer’s journals, however, those were books with content that made the mind reel – dripping jungle glades crawling with poisonous vipers and vicious felines which would disembowel you with one swipe of an infectious claw, savage tribes who worshipped malevolent voodoo gods and liked a tasty bit of haunch…but very dull covers.
Some covers bear only the most tenuous relation to their contents. Take, for example, one of my ex-girlfriends, The Russian. Now there’s a solid case for judging cases on individual merit if ever there was one. Gorgeous, jaw-droppingly so, but quite a modest dresser. So she looks normal (in the vein of prim librarian fantasies), but take it from me - crazy as a sack of Ghanaian Squirrel Rats after a hard week’s float on a barge in the blazing sun of the Niger Delta. Barking.
You take her to Umhlanga for a quiet dip at the beach, turn away for a moment, and…where the hell? Ah, there she is, frolicking through the tidal pools, buck-naked, past a little kid who’s going: ‘Mum, Mum - that lady has got dingises through her numbies. Caroline doesn’t have those...’ Further down the beach is a mama in ZCC getup collecting seawater, going ‘Aibo!’ Took the words right outta my mouth.
Crazy. But apparently it’s quite normal in Russia when you’re sat at your dacha, taking in the summer sun. Umhlanga? May look like an easy-going holiday town, but the tannies will have you locked up in a…um, flash. Book and covers once more.
Amongst many other things, The Russian introduced me to one of the greatest books I’ve ever read – ‘The Master and Marguerite’ by Bulgakov. Now, in terms of books and covers, this simply had a picture of a black cat on the cover. This says very little of the story, which, it must be said, is one of the greatest ever written. Outline: the Devil visits Moscow with his denizens; Marguerite seeks to be reunited with her incarcerated beau with the Devil’s help, and a fresh take on Pontius Pilates’ crucifixion of Yeshau ha Nostri aka Jesus, all of which adds up to a satirical take on Russia under Stalin. All in all a wild read but I had, up until that point, never heard of it. Banned, you see, for something like thirty years. Might not have noticed it if it hadn’t been draped over her pert Tartarstani ass.
‘What’s it about?’ I asked.
‘A block pussy cut and goot and evil. Luff and danger. Like me.’ she purred.
Fair enough, so she was dangerous. How was I to know?
Judge a book by its cover? Once bitten, twice shy.

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