Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov
(Five canaries, all the way)
“To make entirely sure, one of the visitors sent five bullets straight at the head of the damned animal, and the cat promptly emptied a whole cartridge clip in reply…The tom swayed on the chandelier in constantly diminishing arcs, for some reason blowing into the muzzle of the Browning and spitting on his paw.”
-from the confrontation between the cat and the Soviet secret police.
Voland, a professor of black magic, comes to Moscow with his entourage — an enormous cat, one witch, a hitman, a valet, and a pale gentleman — and not so quietly, the capital is turned upsidedown. In the middle of all this, the nameless Master has discovered the price of creating and speaking the truth, and Margarita, who loved and lost, will do anything to get Master back — even if it means making a deal with the devil who walks the streets of Moscow.
The havoc the devil’s minions sew in the city, the story of Christ and Pontius Pilate, and the trials of Master and Margarita are pulled together into a seamless narrative.
What’s more: despite its use of religious figures and themes, there is no moralizing, no overarching moral, and no easy conclusion for the reader.
Because I munched on the Russian original, I can’t vouch for whether there are any English translations out there that convey the awesomeness that is Master and Margarita. Wikipedia has some thoughts on the subject, though.
There’s a reason why the book is on Le Monde’s 100 Books of the Century. Read it.
And if you’re still not convinced, there’s the cat. The incorrigible demonic cat that rides trolleys, eats tangerines whole, accidentally shoots the devil’s witch, and sets fire to buildings. Behemoth (or Hippopotamus, depending on how you translate from Russian) makes the cat lover in me happy.