If an epic can be brief then this is one – Erofeev’s drunken journey to the end of the Moscow train line, stuffed with thoughts and ponderings true, tragic and hilarious. The first thing that strikes the reader is the overriding compulsion to make sense of the world – to catalog, categorize and assign values to things. It starts in on page one and pretty much follows on every page:
“One of my acquaintances says that Coriander vodka has an antihuman effect on a person; that is, it strengthens all the physical members but weakens the soul. With me it happened the other way around for some reason; that is, my soul was strengthened in the highest degree while my members were weakened. But I agree that this too is antihuman. Therefore, at the same time, I added two mugs of Zhiguli beer and an Albe de dessert port straight from the bottle.”
If the narrator could have given up drinking, he would have made a great mathematician or IT guy or infographic designer because he couldn’t get enough of calculating and instructing and laying out (cocktail) recipes. For instance, he wants to know what is worse, paralyis or nausea? Nervous exhaustion or mortal sorrow? It doesn’t surprise you that he is fired from his job for making graphs that chart the drinking habits of his coworkers relative to their productivity. But against this scientific instinct he also seeks to take the wrong path, to get life wrong, to throw his head back “like a piano player” and drink:
“What sort of hallway was it? I haven’t the slight idea even now, and it ought to be that way. Everything should. Everything should take place slowly and incorrectly so that man doesn’t get a chance to start feeling proud, so that man is sad and perplexed.”
The book is of course also a social commentary on Soviet Russia, and starts with the narrator talking about how he couldn’t seem to find the Kremlin even if he tried, and ends with him finally in the Kremlin and not liking what he finds there.