At first glance, Moscow to the End of the Line by Venedikt Yerofeyev seems to be the ultimate book for drunkards. It talks about alcohol, about drinkers, and about drinking as only an old friend can. The plot follows Venichka as he is taking the train from Moscow to Petushki to meet his beloved partner and his son. In his small suitcase, he has candies for her, nuts for the child, and alcohol for himself. Between one drink and the next, Venedikt shares anecdotes about his life, converses with angels, and gives free rein to his thoughts. With each gulp, his thoughts become more scattered, and with each cocktail he concocts, his speech becomes increasingly incoherent until he reaches the realm of delirium, where he can no longer distinguish between imagination and reality, past and present.
So why do I claim that this is only allegedly the ultimate book for drunkards? Beneath the drunken exterior lies harsh criticism of the Soviet government and society of the 1960s. Only drunkards can indeed speak their minds without regard for the consequences of their words. Venedikt describes a society that is decayed and impoverished, a society that has lost its culture in favor of a bitter drop, for every child knows how much a bottle of Stolichnaya costs, but how Pushkin died, they couldn’t tell you if their lives depended on it.
The book is funny in parts, and sad in others, but mostly delusional and heart-touching.
A masterpiece. Five bottles of Zhubrovka and a shot of hunters’ vodka.
Moscow to the End of the Line / Venedikt Yerofeyev / Northwestern University Press