Pray for me,angels. Let my path be bright, let there be no stumbling block, let me see the city I have longed to see.”
On 5 December 1990 I was working in a hostel on Talbot Street when I came across a Bookmark special on a Russian writer called Ben.
At least, that was that the subtitles said was his name, and as I watched I became more and more intrigued by this writer and by his novel - what seemed to be his only novel - Moscow-Pietushki.
The writer’s name was Vyenedikt Yerofeev, the film was called From Moscow to Pietushki, and it had been made by Pawel Pawlikowski.
It being December the hostel was almost empty. I think maybe there were two or three guests, and my job was to wait up until midnight and then lock the door. It must have been the only hostel in Dublin with a curfew. Immediately after the programme was finished I rang my friend Seán to ask him had he seen it. He had, and we both set out to find out more about the writer and, indeed, the novel.
Neither of us had taped the show, and I don’t think it was shown again, so all we had to go on was a Russian writer named Ben who drank a lot. An awful lot. A hell of an awful lot. Eventually Seán had the idea to write to Bookmark and just ask them who was the writer. They got back fairly promptly and with the details - i.e. a surname - Seán was able to order up a translation of the book from the TCD library, and he photocopied the first couple of chapters. The edition was Moscow Circles and the translation didn’t seem very good. Again through TCD we were able to find out that there was another translation entitled Moscow to the End of the Line. Eventually, we wrote off to the publishers, Northwestern University Press, for a catalogue. We were not the most efficient of researchers, and it took us two years to actually get around to ordering the book, but when it finally arrived I called in sick and spent two days at home reading it. I was supremely disappointed. But, given the amount of time and effort that went into getting the book, I picked it up and read it again. And again. And again. It is easily one of my favourite books and at this stage I can quote whole paragraphs. It is funny, insightful, and tragic. What a fantastic combination.
Since I began blogging on Dublin Opinion, I’ve always meant to write something about Moscow to the end of the Line, and H.W. Tjalsma’s sublime translation, but any time I tried I just gave up. It’s one of the few things on this planet that actually leaves me speechless, such is my love and admiration for it.
All I can say is read it. You will be disappointed, but only for the first time.
I only wrote about the book tonight because I put Erofeev’s name into YouTube - as I do every so often - and found that someone has put up a clip of the original film myself and Seán watched one night in December, nineteen years ago.
Anyway, Venedickt Erofeev.
I didn’t know that there was pain like that in the world. And I writhed from the torture of it - a clotted red letter spread across my eyes and started to quiver. And since then I have not regained consciousness, and I never will.”