О, самое бессильное и позорное время в жизни моего народа – время от рассвета до открытия магазинов! [Oh, the most powerless and shameful time in my people’s life – the time from dawn to the shops’ opening!]

Petushki train station.

Petushki train station. All pictures stolen from Rhea.

Moscow-Petushki, by Venedikt Erofeev

Moscow-Petushki (more commonly known in English as Moscow to the End of the Line) is a rambling, postmodernist novel by Venedikt Erofeev. Written in 1970 but only published in the USSR in 1989, Moscow-Petushki tells the story of a Russian intellectual (and alcoholic) making the 80 mile (125 km) trip from Moscow to the small town of Petushki. From the moment the novel’s main character (Venichka) wakes up and drunkenly laments the wait until the shops open, readers are led through a simultaneously hilarious and depressing glimpse into Soviet life.

Reading this book is like entering into a sad, surreal world. If you’ve ever been in Russia, you’ll get the unsettling feeling that you’ve seen Venichka many, many times. While the story is certainly humorous in places, overall Erofeev manages to make reader uncomfortably aware of the necessity of alcoholism in the lives of the Soviet people.

Lenin in Petushki.

Lenin in Petushki.

While it probably won’t show up in your local bookstore, Moscow to the End of the Line is available online in both English and Russian. If you can read Russian, I’d suggest giving this book a try in its original language. While some vocabulary or references may be unfamiliar, its pretty simple and not too long. After you read the book, check out this hilarious/tragic documentary on Youtube centered around Erofeev (Russian language, but with English subtitle).

Petushki? Why Not?, by Two American Girls

Russians have a saying: Moscow and Russia are two different countries.

After half an hour on the train, Rhea and I were inclined to agree. After leaving Kursky Vokzal, Moscow quickly drops away and reveals the real Russia. Trees, the occasional small village, and tottering old babushki walking along dirt paths to places only known to themselves. In a nod to Moscow-Petushki’s main character Venichka, we ate some snacks and had a drink while we whiled away the two and a half hour ride.

Why did we choose to head to Petushki that day in 2011? To be quite honest, I don’t really remember. I think Rhea had read the book and decided the town was worth a look. Probably, we had nothing better to do.

We finally arrived and stepped out to a pretty typical view in a country train station:

Our first view of Petushki.

Our first view of Petushki.

There wasn’t much to see: several run-down buildings housing cafes and shops, decaying Ladas, and people wandering home from their trips. Despite the light rain falling, Rhea and I set out to see what the town had to offer. We set off in a random direction and ended up making a large loop around the whole city. To be honest, Petushki isn’t much more than some small wooden houses, the typical House of Culture, and a small shopping center — not that Erofeev or Venichka promised anything of the sort. Having made our loop, we sat down for lunch, marveling at the country prices.

Eventually we made our way home, neither drunk, beaten, or anything else out of the ordinary. I suppose that’s all we could have asked for — to leave the alcoholism and prosaic depression to the books as much as possible.

  • Kristen

    Polly! I went to Petushki with an expat soccer team a couple months ago. Adrian Pope ( you know him?) befriended, somehow, this British guy who married a Russian, gave up his British citizenship, and started a farm out there. We played soccer against a local team, took a tour of the farm, cooked steaks, rode horses, and went 4-wheeling. It was weird, and awesome, and we’re going again at the end of September if you feel like making a return trip!

    • Polly

      I heard about that! Actually Keits and I were planning on going to the one at the start of the summer but we couldn’t make it to the train station that early!

      Definitely let me know when you all are heading out, that sounds really weird/interesting.

    • Rhea

      Your trip to Petushki is far more enviable than ours. =/// Also, Polly, I can’t believe you didn’t mention the gypsies! 😉

      • Polly

        Oh! I totally forgot about the gypsies. Damn.

  • ladyofthecakes

    Aw, that looks…and sounds… dire :( Give me the Bavarian outback any day!

    • Polly

      Yup. I imagine the European countryside is a bit more idyllic!

      • ladyofthecakes

        But Russia is Europe! Up to the Urals, at any rate.

        • Polly

          The Russia-Europe divide is actually what I wrote my thesis about (so I could go on and one and on) but while to the Urals may technically be Europe, it’s not true in any real sense of the word.

          I’d much rather be in the Italian/French/German countryside than anywhere in Russia!

  • Dmitry Zembatov

    You heard the voice of the angels?
    “Поезжай, поезжай в Петушки! В Петушках – твое спасение и радость твоя, поезжай.”
    “Петушки – это место, где не умолкают птицы, ни днем, ни ночью, где ни зимой, ни летом не отцветает жасмин. Первородный грех – может, он и был – там никого не тяготит. Там даже у тех, кто не просыхает по неделям, взгляд бездонен и ясен…”

    I can’t translate this poetry!

    PS I was around Petushki (Omutischi station) at the weekend.

    • Polly

      I think I will re-read the book before I go back to Petushki. The book is much more interesting!

  • Kate

    This book sounds really interesting, I’m definitely going to look it up and see about getting a copy – although it’d have to be in English for me! I’m really interested to go to Russia but as with all places I’ve traveled to so far, I’m much more interested in life there than I am in tourist attractions and over priced restaurants.

    Although your trip wasn’t very eventful, sometimes they can be the nicest ones for a day trip to see a new area – especially as you said it seemed like a different place entirely to Moscow. Plus like you said with the prices, out of city pricing always blows my mind! Haha.

    • Polly

      I absolutely agree: real life experiences (if they can be found) are much more interesting and memorable, particularly after you’ve already experienced the typical tourist attractions!

  • Annie

    Way cool to check out cities from stories/books! But what the heck….and Belgian!?

  • Cara

    I am looking for Moscow Petushki in Russian but I am having the most difficult time finding it on the internet. Do you have a website where it is available?

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