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:
- The Alcoholic: Our hero.
- Arcadia: Petushki.
- Book Ends: The ending. Possibly.
- Character Filibuster: It's a Russian novel narrated entirely by a drunk guy. What did you expect?
- 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 FaceHeel Turn and stabs the letter U into his throat with an awl. Yikes.
- That last scene also becomes Harsher in Hindsight if you know what the author died of...
- 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.