Monday, November 8, 2010

Moscow-Petushki by Venedikt Erofeev - Book Review #110

Monday, November 8, 2010
by Venedikt Erofeev

In this classic novel of Russian humor and social commentary, a cable fitter is fired from his job after accidentally sending out detailed graphs charting his coworkers' productivity against the amount of alcohol they consumed.

Moscow-Petushki, also known as Moscow to the End of the Line, Moscow Stations and Moscow Circles is a pseudo-autobiographical prose poem about a cable fitter, intellectual and alcoholic – Venichka – who was fired from his job, for the graphs creation of his and his coworkers’ productivity against the amount of alcohol they intake. After he is fired, Venichka decided to travel from Moscow to the 125 kilometer (77 miles) away town – Petushki, to visit his lover and a child.

The whole novel is set during Venichka’s travel. While on the train, he drinks and engages in conversations with different people and with himself, discussing the wide variety of subjects from politics to religion, from philosophy to literature, from recipes to make different alcoholic “cocktails”(from eau de toilette, nails polish and other products that contain alcohol) to the meaning of life. As novel progress and as more Venichka drinks, novel becoming more and more surrealistic, hallucinogenic and dark.

Some view this novel as a sarcastic overview of the soviet life during late 60th. Other, consider it to be a cry for help, a cry for changes in the system and in the everyday life. I will not get into discussion on this, because I don’t think that this novel can be easily classified. For me it was hilarious and tragic, illuminating and devastating at the same time.

I really enjoyed Erofeev’s humor, which was based on paronomasia, or play on words. The grace, with which he interlaces words into most elegant and unobtrusive humor, was amazing and captivating. It is hard for me to judge, but I think that the novel in general and its humor in particular, might be hard to understand for people who is not closely familiar with everyday life of regular Russian people during late 60th, with policies and views of same period, with Marx’ and Lenin’s quotes and with Russian literature.

Moscow-Petushki also seems like a very hard to translate novel. First of all, it is prose poem, so it has a specific rhythm and pace. Second, it seems to me that in hands of not very good translator a lot of nuances of the humor might be lost (or maybe these nuances even untranslatable). I read this book in Russian and I didn’t check any translations, so I can’t really comment if a good job or not was done or not.

I loved Venedikt Erofeev’s Moscow-Petushki. It might be the best Russian book that was written at the crack of 70th. I would recommend this book to the Russian literature enthusiasts and to the satire lovers. For everyone else? – Only in case you are really interested.


Nick Garafalo said...

This book sucks. I have to read it for a class in college and this is honestly one of the worst books I've ever read. It is impossible to follow, and makes absolutely no sense whatsoever. Horrible, horrible read.

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