September 01, 2003

Venichka's Poem

The mystic of suburban trains and cheap drinking, Venidict Erofeev (or Venichka, as he is affectionately known to Russians, and which is also the name of the main character of his most famous work), is one of the most brilliant figures in contemporary Russian literature.  He became famous for just one work – the prose book that he called a poem, Moskva-Petushki (in English, published as Moscow to the End of the Line). The poem – despite its seemingly  humorous theme:  a drunk’s allegorical voyage from Moscow to Petushki, 125 km from the capital –  is both the funniest and the saddest book of its era.

During his lifetime, Erofeev was considered by some a drunkard and an unlucky wretch who simply failed to become a philologist. One student of the writer, Svetlana Geisser-Schnittman, described the author more aptly, as  “an erudite person raised in a godforsaken place, near a small station in the silent tundra, a hobo who disdained the rules of the powerful ‘propiska’ [residency permit system], a mystic in a country based on state atheism, a most paradoxical figure who reflects the contradictions of his time and country.”

Erofeev was born in a remote province of Murmansk region on October 24, 1938, and went on to be a man of great learning. Moskva – Petushki demonstrated this in full measure. The work is full of different quotations, allusions, stylizations and parodies. More than 100 names of Russian and foreign writers, philosophers, musicians, politicians, singers, actors, literary and Biblical figures can be found in the hundred and a half pages of text.

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