Book of da Week: Venedikt Yerofeev’s Moscow Stations

Venedikt Yerofeev Moscow Stations
Venedikt Yerofeev’s magnificent and highly amusing Moscow Stations.

Venedikt Yerofeev’s Moscow Stations is a curious novella. Mr. Wapojif spotted it in a (now closed) bookshop in late 2003 whilst but a student in Nottingham. It was £3, he liked the cover, and so he purchased a copy. 12 years later he still has the thing proudly positioned on his bookshelf.

The author and the book have a bizarre history. Yerofeev (1938-1990) penned it in 1970 and handed it around (at that stage in a more volatile, expletive laden condition) amongst his local community. It wasn’t published properly until 1989 when, due to its contents, it turned up in his native Russia in Sobriety and Culture – a journal attempting to promote better public health the USSR.

In 1990 the BBC showed some interest and filmed a documentary on Yerofeev (then dying of throat cancer) and Tom Courtenay starred in a London theatre adaptation in 1994. Faber and Faber, no less, published the novel in the late 1990s, but it’s since become scarce indeed and is a treasure if you can land your hands upon it. Here’s what you’re missing out on!

Moscow Stations

There isn’t a conventional plot here. Yerofeev based the protagonist, Venya, on himself and this individual stumbles drunkenly around Moscow musing on life, love, and everything else. Venya is recently unemployed after being fired for revealing his drinking habits whilst on the job, and plans to take a metro ride through Moscow to see his sweetheart.

Through bleary-eyed inebriated philosophising, he becomes increasingly wayward on his journey and is constantly complaining about why he’s never seen the Kremlin. Ultimately, after around 90 pages of brilliantly observed and hilarious insights on life, the story takes a dark turn. As the author put it, it’s 90 pages of funny stuff and 10 pages of sad stuff. He also considered the thing a “poem”, but it most certainly is not.

Regardless, during Venya’s journey we get insights on bizarre topics such as his arbitrary hiccupping patterns, the psychotic cocktails he created out of perfume and brake fluid, his savage verbal diatribes against Russian politicians, and endless complaints about where the bloody Kremlin is. It’s a fabulous book and we dare you to hunt down a copy. It’d be totally worth your while.

A Bit About Venedikt Yerofeev

Yerofeev is one of the great forgotten writers of the world, in part aided by his inability to ever complete anything. He once left a manuscript of an impending novel on the Russian metro – eventually it made its way back to him, but it doesn’t seem to have been published anyway. Only at the end of his life did he find any sort of recognition, but by then, due to his illness, he could only talk with a primitive voice box.

There’s a great deal of confusion surrounding his surname. As you can see on our copy it’s Yerofeev, but elsewhere we’ve seen it written as Erofeev, Yerofeyev, and Erofeyev. The scarcity of his published work only adds to the elusive nature of the man, making us wonder why he isn’t on the same mystical scale of writers such as Franz Kafka.

There are obvious comparisons to Nikolai Gogol, of course, whose Petersburg Tales we’ve already covered. As it states on the back of our copy of Moscow Stations:

“In many ways [Moscow Stations] is the successor to Gogol’s Dead Souls: the two works are comic historical bookends, with Gogol’s novel portraying the sloth and corruption of feudal Russia and Yerofeev’s novel portraying the sloth and corruption of feudal Communism.”

Gogol is world famous in the literary community, but for Yerofeev there only seems to have been a brief hint of acclaim some 20 years ago. This has now entirely dribbled out into oblivion and the man remains largely unknown.

As a consequence, we’d like to draw attention to what is possibly the only published piece of work from a witty and inspired man who, unfortunately, didn’t have the opportunities to take his writing to an international stage. Find yourself a copy as a tribute. Go on. Do it. NOW!

You can also visit a massively detailed Moscow Stations review on our other blog!

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