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Literature / Moscow - Petushki

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Our cheerful and well-adjusted hero.

"And, suddenly, he started to wave his hands around like a gypsy dancer and then to fumble busily about with his clothing, stripping off his uniform down to his most intimate parts.

Although drunk, I gazed at him in amazement, while the sober citizens around him just about leapt from their seats. And in dozens of eyes was written a huge "Aha!" The people had interpreted the matter quite differently then they ought to have interpreted.

I should tell you that homosexuality in our country has been overcome once and for all but not entirely. Or, entirely but no completely. Or else, entirely and completely but not once and for all. What do people think about now? Nothing but homosexuality. That and the Middle East. Israel, the Golan Heights, Moshe Dayan. So, if they chase Moshe Dayan off the Golan Heights and the Arabs make peace with the Jews? What will remain in the peoples' heads? Nothing but homosexuality pure and simple.

Let's say they're watching television. General de Gaulle and Georges Pompidou meet at a diplomatic function. Naturally they both smile and shake each other's hands. And then the audience goes: 'Aha.' They say, 'Go on, General de Gaulle!' Or: 'Aha, go on, Georges Pompidou!'

Just like they were looking at us now. Everyone had 'Aha' written in his round eyes."

Kilometer 85 - Orekhovo-Zhuevo

The samizdat classic Moskva-Petushki is a comedic prose poem written in 1969 by Venedikt Erofeev; playwright, literary critic, ex-cable fitter, and drunken layabout of the highest order. It was published first in Europe and passed around the Soviet underground to great success, but not officially published in its native Russia until 1989, a year before the author's death of throat cancer.

It was translated into English a few different times under different names (such as Moscow to the End of the Line and Moscow Stations). The author's surname is also spelled Erofeyev or Yerofeyev, to more adequately reflect the pronunciation.

The story follows a Muscovite cable-fitter named Venedikt Erofeev, called Venichka for short, who was recently fired from his job as a foreman for accidentally sending out charts measuring his workers' productivity against the amount of alcohol they drunk that day. The novel opens on the hero waking up at dawn in an hallway somewhere in Moscow, after having passed out from drinking the night before. He immediately sets to what he had been attempting to do the other night before the drunken blackout distracted him - get on a train to Petushki, a small town 125 kilometers from Moscow, where his three-year-old son and love interest await.

So, armed only with a suitcase full of presents (and booze), a choir of guardian angels, and a hangover, our hero manages to catch the train from Kursk Station. From from then on it's simply a matter of sitting, drinking, and making satirical comments on living in Russia during Soviet times. It so happens that forces beyond Venichka's reckoning are conspiring to keep him away from his child and beloved ...

Provides examples of:

  • Completely Different Title: Even in Moscow region the majority of people don't know what Petushki is. Thus translators tried to be creative: Moscow to the End of the Line (technically wrong, few trains go east of Petushki, but the end is Vladimir), Moscow Stations, Moscow Circles (technically wrong too, the protagonist goes in radial direction and doesn't use any of circular routes). The 1st and 3rd also count as ominous foreshadowing.
  • Gainax Ending: Depending on how you'd like to interpret it, the ending reveals that Erofeev was so drunk he missed his stop at Petushki and just stayed on the train until it arrived back in Moscow that night, where he was beaten into unconsciousness by a group of thugs ... or you can take it literally. In which case all the forces of darkness from Pontic King Mithridates and the Devil Himself to a fellow passenger's abusive ex, have successfully magicked him back to Moscow, where the angelic choir following him around pulls a Face–Heel Turn and stabs the letter U into his throat with an awl. Yikes.
  • Postmodernism: It's great fun picking out all the subtle references to other works of Russian literature.
  • Scheherezade Gambit: Venichka pulls this on a ticket inspector. Since nobody traveling the line ever actually buys a ticket, that in and of itself is not a problem. But Venichka never has money or vodka to spare for bribes, so he finds it necessary to come up with a new story to distract the inspector with every time he does the rounds.
  • Screwball Serum: Erofeev kindly provides recipes for mixed drinks with grandiose names like Balsam of Canaan or A Young Communist's Teardrop. Which are made out of, among other things, refined furniture polish, bug spray, and perfume; for when you just can't get your hands on alcohol proper. Those "drinks" are real and (mostly) safe for consuming if you'll be careful and know how much to drink.
  • Train Problem: (Well, in general, really.) But in its literal form, this trope appears as a riddle a sphinx presents to Venichka.
  • Un-Installment: The preface says that in the first draft the chapter "Serp i Molot—Karacharovo" contained too many cuss words. The author had to add a warning for sensitive girls, but it had the opposite effect, thus he ended up removing all obscenities, leaving only "And he drank immediately." It's debatable how true the story is.