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Moscow to the End of the Line.

Russia/the USSR produced as many or more excellent modernist writers from 1890 to 1935 as any nation in the world, but since Stalin's purges experimental writing has been discouraged to such an extent that it has become a literary backwater. Hopefully, with censorship relaxed this situation will not last long, but right now Russian literature is still pretty tame stuff. There were a few fine avant-garde writers that emerged in the Brezhnev and Gorbachev eras, however, among them Sasha Sokolov, Vladimir Maramzin, Vladimir Sorokin, Boris Vakhtin, and Venedikt Erofeev.

Erofeev's Moscow to the End of the Line made its appearance in samizdat form in 1969. It was previously published in England in 1991, entitled Moscow Circles, and is a splendid, hilarious, but ultimately tragic novel.

The protagonist is Erofeev himself, a cable fitter, who is such a drunk that though he lives in Moscow he's never been able to locate the Kremlin. One day while searching he winds up at the Kursk Railway Station and gets on a train bound for the town of Petushki, where he has a girlfriend. Most of the novel takes place while he is en route.

Erofeev starts drinking heavily on the train while ruminating over his low adventures. Then he has discussions with his neighbors, who are also drinking. Soon they get into the subject of drinking and great artists: Modest Mussourgsky lies dead drunk in a ditch and Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov comes by dressed in a smoking jacket and carrying a bamboo walking stick. Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov stops, tickles Modest with his walking stick and says, |Get up. Go wash yourself and sit down and finish your divine opera Khovaschina!'"

As events progress, they get increasingly hallucinatory, but the mood becomes increasingly menacing. Erofeev loses track of where he is. Exiting the train he finds he's back in Moscow, not Petushki. Four men chase him through empty streets. Eventually he's caught and an awl is driven through his neck.

This work, with its use of free association and symbolism and its accelerating pace and changing moods, is one of the better novels written anywhere since the mid-sixties. Among its unusual features: one chapter consists of a single short sentence, others are joined by sentences which begin in one and end in the next. The novel's layout and graphic effects, like the insertion of graphs and vertical lists, are unusual.

Unfortunately, from what I've been able to gather, Erofeev really is or was a seriously afflicted alcoholic and has had little or nothing printed since this novel appeared. [Harvey Pekar]
COPYRIGHT 1993 Review of Contemporary Fiction
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Author:Pekar, Harvey
Publication:The Review of Contemporary Fiction
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Jun 22, 1993
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