The Writers Living at Baikal and the Writers Describing Baikal

The Writers Living at Baikal and the Writers Describing Baikal

The Siberian sea lake, severe and majestic, was a source of inspiration for various creative minds. Poems and songs, as well as paintings were created on its coast, extremely touching texts were written there. Writers, poets, artists, musicians, people of science and art found a place here that filled them with creative energy. Interestingly, this region inspires more and more generations of creators. That happens because Baikal is one of human symbols of eternity.
Anastasiya Yarovaya
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Publisher, lives in Irkutsk. Anastasiya is the author of thirteen books and the owner of a small publishing house.

Anton Chekhov: Baikal at the Crossroads of Prose and Poetry

Perhaps, we should start telling our story about the writers who turned to Baikal in their prose and letters from Anton Pavlovich Chekhov. His definition of Irkutsk where he briefly stayed during his trip to Sakhalin in 1890 – “a rather European city” – became a legend.

The researchers of the writer’s creative legacy believe that the description of Baikal in his letters is one of the best works of the epistolary genre.

The first Baikal letter of Anton Pavlovich was dated June 13 and sent from the Listvennichnaya station to his mother Yevgenia Yakovlevna, sister Maria and brother Mikhail.

“We drove to Baikal along the bank of the Angara River that flows out from Lake Baikal and into the Yenisei. Look at the map. The banks are picturesque. Mountains are everywhere; they are densely covered with forests. The weather was amazing, quiet, sunny, and warm; I rode and for some reason felt that I was unusually healthy; I felt so good that I could not describe it. This was probably due to my stay in Irkutsk and because the bank of the Angara reminded me of Switzerland. I saw something new and unique. We drove along the bank, came to the mouth and turned left; there we saw the coast of Lake Baikal which is called a “sea” in Siberia. It looked like a mirror. Of course, one could not see the opposite coast: the distance made up 96 kilometers. The banks are high, steep, rocky, overgrown with woods; there are capes protruding into the sea to the right and to the left, they resemble Ayu-Dag or Tokhtabel in Feodosia. The place looks like Crimea. The station of Listvenichnaya located near the water is strikingly similar to Yalta; if the houses were white, the similarity to Yalta would have been complete. Only the mountains have no houses on them, for they are too steep and not meant for building houses ...”

On the same day Chekhov wrote a letter to the architect F.O. Shekhtel:

“You have never received letters from the coast of Lake Baikal. So, I write to you. I write this letter sitting on the coast of Lake Baikal and waiting for the ship to show me mercy and transport me further on. I arrived here on Tuesday, and the steam ship will depart on Friday. It is raining, there is fog above the lake, we have nothing to eat; there are plenty of cockroaches and bedbugs, goodbye, dear uncle!”

And yet another letter (from the letter to relatives dated June 20):

“The travel through Lake Baikal turned out to be wonderful, and I will never forget it. Only one thing was not so good: we took seats in the 3rd class, and the whole deck was occupied by the horses for cargo transportation – the animals raged like mad. These horses added a special atmosphere to my travel: it seemed that I was traveling on a robbers’ ship. A guard in Klyuev agreed to take our baggage to the station; he rode and we walked on foot behind the wagon along the most picturesque coast. You have made a mistake, Levitan, by refusing to go with me. The forest road is like this: there is a forest leading to the mountain on the right, and there is a forest descending down to Baikal on the left. What ravines, what rocks can be seen here! Baikal has a gentle, warm color. By, the way, it was very warm outside…”

On that very day Chekhov sent two more letters. Anton Pavlovich wrote to his friend, comedian writer I.A. Leikin: “I sent you a letter from Irkutsk. Have you received it? More than a week has passed since that time, during this week I crossed Baikal and traveled through Transbaikalia. Baikal is amazing, and Siberians call it not a lake, but a sea, for a good reason. The water is unusually transparent so that you can see through it, just like through the air; its color is soft, turquoise, pleasing the eye. The banks are mountainous, covered with forests; the territory around is wild, impassable. Local fauna is reach: a lot of bears, sables, wild goats and all sorts of animals live in the taiga and eat each other. I lived on the coast of Lake Baikal for two days. When I sailed, it was quiet and hot. Transbaikalia is magnificent. It is a mixture of Switzerland, Don and Finland.”

The Russian playwright addressed the following lines to the poet A.N. Pleshcheyev: “I am impressed by Transbaikalia through which I traveled: it is a marvelous land. Generally speaking, Siberian poetry begins from Baikal, whereas prose comes before the Lake.”

Valentin Rasputin: the Glow of Baikal

Valentin Rasputin is щne of the main Baikal writers, who not only dedicated a lot of touching words to the lake, but also spent the most part of his life on its coast.

In his essay “Baikal, Baikal…” Valentin Grigorievich wrote:

“Baikal, as it might seem, should suppress a man with his greatness and size - everything is large, wide, free and mysterious in this lake, however, on the contrary, the lake elevates human minds. A rare feeling of elation and spirituality comes to you at Lake Baikal, as if you were touched by a secret seal of these magical concepts due to the eternity and perfection of this place, felt the close breath of omnipotent presence, and imbibed a share of the magical secret of all things. You already seem to have been marked and chosen due to the fact that you stand on this coast, breathe this air and drink this water. Nowhere else will you have a feeling of such complete and desired connection to nature and immersion into it: you will be drunk with this air,  you head will swirl, and you will be carried away over this water so soon that you will not have time to come to your senses; you will visit the reserved areas you had never dreamed of; and you will come back with hope you increased tenfold: the promised life will be waiting there, ahead of you...”

Here is the description of the lake from the story titled “New Profession” presenting a sample of excellent classical Russian prose:

“So, Lake Baikal continued to plunge into glow, not into darkness, in the cooling, fading light. Alesha was walking, and the huge water canvas on the right was overflowing with abundance, “leafed through” the colors: a second ago it was orange and glaring, playing with the dawn, then it became purple, producing long hazy shadows, then emerald, with sparkling flashes, then it was becoming  all the more deeper and brighter ... “

The description of Baikal by Valentin Rasputin was not made up allegedly, because he lived in the so-called “Baikal Peredelkino” - in the “Writers’ Village” at the port of Baikal, opposite to the source of Angara.

Writers’ Village

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The Poet Vladimir Skif wrote a book about writers, poets, artists who began to settle on the coast of the lake in the mid-60s of XX century. He called his book “Baikal Peredelkino”, although this settlement was really called simply and unpretentiously – “Writers’ Village”. The Siberian writer Gleb Pakulov was one of the first people to live in the place where the famous Circum-Baikal Railway begins. Soon he was joined by the writers Vladimir Zhemchuzhnikov and Nelly Matkhanova, and then Valentin Rasputin bought a house at the port of Baikal at the address: 1 Vokzalnaya Street. This happened in the early 1970s: at that time the writer created novels that brought him worldwide fame: “Live and Remember” and “Farewell to Matyora”; he wrote those, having retired from the world in his Baikal house. Later Valentin Grigoryevich gave this house to Vladimir Skif as a gift - they were relatives (their wives were sisters). Here are the words he wrote about this:

“Sergei Ioffe also lived at Lake Baikal, he wrote his best books here. And those were not only collections of poems, but also a number of books, the majority of which were presented by the essays on Russian poets.

Famous domestic playwright Aleksandr Vampilov not only lived in the Writers’ Village with his friend Gleb Pakulov. By the will of fate and Baikal, his boat was turned upside down at that place; as a result, he passed away.

The frequent guests of the Writers’ Village were Viktor Petrovich Astafyev with his wife, Evgeny Ivanovich Nosov, Nikolai Voronov, Gennady Mashkin, Stanislav Kitaisky, Valery Khairyuzov, Boris Lapin and many others.

Viktor Astafyev claimed that he was attracted to Lake Baikal in the same way as to his native village of Ovsyanka, that a few days spent at Lake Baikal let him have enough rest from everyday life, recharge his power.

Skif also points out the outstanding Russian writer and poet Leonid Ivanovich Borodin who wrote unique autobiographical reminiscences of Baikal in his book “The Year of Miracle and Grief”. He spent his childhood at Lake Baikal. And even when Leonid Borodin became the Editor-in-Chief of a Moscow magazine, he never forgot Baikal, rightly believing that the Lake gave him enough strength to survive the hardships of fate that he had to endure: arrests, accusations of anti-Soviet propaganda and, consequently, eleven years of prison camps...

Two other famous Siberian writers — Anatoly Baiborodin and Mikhail Prosekin — lived and worked at the other end of the Circum-Baikal Railway, in the village of Kultuk.

Paulo Coelho and others

The world-famous author of “The Alchemist” - Paulo Coelho – visited Baikal in May 2006.

During the press conference, he said that one of the most unforgettable impressions of his two-week trip on the Trans-Siberian Railway was swimming in the icy Baikal, where he could feel the strength of the Russian spirit:

“Having come to Baikal, I suddenly felt an urge to step into the water. I do not know what its temperature was, but probably around four degrees. When I plunged into it, I felt like I immersed into the heart of Russia. I had an incredible feeling of its strength and power”.

In 2010, within the framework of the year of France in Russia, a delegation of French writers visited Baikal. The writer Sylvie Germain said:

“I do not remember who said it that writers were friends with nature. However Baikal causes not just a feeling of friendship, but a feeling one can experience towards a living being, a person. This feeling is explained by the lake’s magnificence and grandeur.”

Magnificence and grandeur... Perhaps, this definition describes Baikal in the best possible way. These two things explain its strength and inspiration generously shared by the lake with creative people and everyone who is ready to perceive this energy of creativity.

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