Perhaps it’s because, like many novels penned during political upheavals, it was censored for some time. It was passed around the Soviet Union only through grassroots reprinting until 1987, despite its being written in 1969 by Venedikt Erofeev.
But it was largely hailed as a masterpiece in other parts of Europe where it was printed earlier. Although today it’s garnered serious acclaim and is fairly accessible, it seems to have missed the book reading lexicon, which in my opinion, is a big shame.
The book is a Russian masterpiece. It’s a semi-autobiographical look into Russian society through a postmodern lens, one that is rife with irreverent (and alcohol-soaked) humor. I’ve seen it listed as a prose poem, a novella and a novel, and whichever it might actually be, the takeaway here is that unlike the grandiose prototype of a Russian classic, this one is pretty short.
Moscow to the End of the Line begins with the protagonist detailing his recent firing after he accidentally sends out handmade graphs that outline colleagues’ productivity contrasted with the amount of alcohol they’ve consumed. It is at once quirky, dark, and hilarious.
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The rest of the novel follows his thoughts and interactions with fellow Russians as he takes a train ride to Petushki, and the reader is taken on a journey back and forth from his immediate settings to the enormity of his social and political imaginings.
Like all good absurdity, it touches the nerve of something very real. And like all good period pieces, it touches on the larger, relatable scale of human nature and society. Through deeply moving and tragic meanderings of the mind, we see a portrait of a man reflecting on the culture at large and the human forces all men must grapple with.
It’s like taking a Russian Hunter S. Thompson, mixing him with Jonathan Franzen, and tossing in a pinch of Chekhov and Kafka just for good measure.
Dreamlike, drunken, hilarious, moving, my adjective list could go on and on. It’s not necessarily written in a mainstream style, but everyone I’ve forced this book upon has come back to me loving it. And since I gave it to both a diehard Harry Potter fan and an exclusive romance reader – and it earned praise from both – I have to take that as a sign that this book really is something rare.
Do you have a favorite book that no one else has heard of? C’mon, we know you do! Tell us in a comment! We’ll build a terrific list of little-known great reads.