ASP Abridged: Wandering in Circles

We are pleased to present the latest in our ASP Abridged blog series, in which authors give readers a short and sweet introduction to their latest book.

Here, Jill Martiniuk introduces us to her new book, Wandering in Circles: Venichka’s Journey of Redemption in “Moskva-Petushki”.

Tell us what Wandering in Circles is about in simple terms.

On its surface, it’s another interpretation of Venichka’s trip in Erofeev’s Moskva-Petushki (translated in English as Moscow to the End of the Line). As readers familiar with Erofeev’s work know, there are so many references and allusions to other works of literature, music, and art scattered throughout the poemaWandering in Circles explores a particular subset of those references: ones that deal with the idea of redemption. Wandering in Circles examines the relationship between Moskva-Petushki and other major journeys of redemption both in Russia and in the West—Radishchev’s Journey from St. Petersburg to Moscow, Milton’s Paradise Lost, and Dante’s The Divine Comedy. These different works represent three different versions of redemption: social, political, and religious, and each of the aforementioned works reflects Erofeev’s view on what redemption meant during that period. Since each work treats redemption as a journey, the book begins with an exploration of how Moskva-Petushki is a work of travel literature and how that acts as a commentary on the travel narratives and travel guides that were being published in the Soviet Union around the time that Erofeev wrote it. With each subsequent chapter, I wanted to examine why Erofeev ultimately rejects each of these versions of redemption as a possibility for his protagonist. 

Radishchev, Dante, and Milton each faced forms of persecution in their respective societies. Radishchev was exiled for writing Journey from St. Petersburg to Moscow, yet he still saw the possibility of change for Russia and her people. Likewise, Dante was exiled from his beloved Florence and his reputation was destroyed in the city, but he still believed that he would be redeemed, and his reputation restored. Milton was jailed in 1659 for his support of Oliver Cromwell and subsequently went into hiding but was able to return to society and his writing after his self-imposed exile. Each of these writers presents redemption as a journey that has confrontations, missteps, and challenges along the way, but all three ultimately show that redemption is a destination that can be reached. Erofeev, in Moskva-Petushki, rejects the possibility entirely, and so the book explores how Erofeev acknowledges each of these journeys and what they represent to the writer and reader, and then how he shows them as impossibilities for those who existed within the broken system of the Soviet Union. 

How does Wandering in Circles make a unique contribution to the field?

Although there are so many elements of parody and humor in Moskva-Petushki, there are real moments of grief and anguish that subvert the humor. As readers, we know that Venichka’s journey is doomed even before he sets foot on the train for that final time. His twelve previous attempts all ended with failure, and this final attempt will be the same. What I hope that the book shows is that Erofeev deeply understands that there are many paths to redemption whether it be social, spiritual, or political redemption, and by engaging with aspects of those models throughout Venichka’s final attempt, he rejects them. The endings of the three works I selected all show redemption as a glorious destination—the ending of Inferno in particular—is beautiful. Dante leaves hell (he hasn’t even reached purgatory yet!) and sees those beautiful stars so he knows he’s on the correct path. I hope that my book shows that Erofeev understood that redemption, even if someone desperately wanted it, was a real impossibility for so many during that time. 

Jill Martiniuk is an Assistant Professor of Teaching in the Department of Engineering Education at the University of Buffalo. In addition to her research on redemption in Russian literature, she has published on adaptation of Russian texts in contemporary Western literature.

Wandering in Circles is available now for purchase from ASP or wherever you buy your books.