Nikolai Baturin is part of the `big literature´ of Estonia, a unique phenomenon because of his work´s panoramic fantasy, a certain epic quality and a rare sense of language forming a powerful combination. It is somewhat ironic that an author with a Russian name wrote novels with arguably the richest language in Estonian prose. It would be impossible to overlook his prose. The reason is simple: Baturin may have been the only writer of big novels in those fast (and frantic) times. And it is not only a question of the length of his novels. Reaching outside the writer’s limits of time and space; imaginary landscapes whose developments and character both startle and surprise, and poetical use of language as rich as the writer’s fantasy: this is the essence of Baturin’s novels. Baturin’s genius is also expressed on another level – he was an outstanding poet, playwright and prose writer. Fascinated by the mysticism of theatre, he had staged a play.

Nikolai Baturin was born in Estonia in 1936. Educated at an agricultural college and a marine college, he served for five years in the navy on a submarine destroyer, defending the Caspian Sea oil reserves. He participated in several geological expeditions to the Angara River, worked on oil fields, was a fisherman on a fishing vessel, and spent fifteen years as a professional trapper in the Siberian taiga. He knew the things he wrote about thoroughly, and perhaps because of it his protagonists often vary the writer´s own name (for example, the hunter of The Heart of the Bear is Niika, in Centaur there is Nikyas Bigart, and the submarine commander in A Fern in the Stone bears the name of Nikolas Batrian).

Baturin made his debut together with the mighty generation of the nineteen-sixties with a collection of beautiful, deep and vivid poetry, Maa-alused järved (Underground Lakes, 1968). He was always interested in linguistic creation: writing poetry in local dialect, creating neologisms, writing prose as a poet, feeling the power of words, composing the texts, not writing in his own words. He illustrated some of his books himself.

In his wide-ranging allegorical desert novel Kentaur (Centaur, 2003) of autobiography and fantasy the motif of fire recalled the enormous fire of the Caspian oil platforms the writer had once to extinguish with his bombing ship – then the biggest oil platform fire in the world. He was familiar to the roots of the base of the present-day world, the oil, and the scenario of running out of it. Centaur won the prose award of the Literature Foundation of the Estonian Cultural Endowment, and the novel competition.

Places devoid of people, ocean, desert and taiga, are Baturin’s preferred landscapes: vast, boundless, transcending and forgetting time. It seems that only Baturin could squeeze this polyphonic boundlessness between the covers of a book. And there it waits like a genie in a bottle.

One of his most important works, the novel Karu süda (The Heart of the Bear, 1998, the film version in 2002), shows how deep and multi-faceted was Baturin’s yearning clairvoyant sight. In a very visual and film-like description it is a book about life in the taiga, partly written in the Finno-Ugric way of seeing the world, close to nature. It is a novel with several levels, of the meaning of the life, of love and immortality.

His Sõnajalg kivis (A Fern in the Stone, 2006) is a novel of fantasy, of global guilt and responsibility, and of ocean holocaust. Nikolas Batrian, the commander of a submarine on the South Atlantic, destroys an unknown submarine with nuclear bombs while training to bomb the bottom of the ocean. After the attack he witnesses the horrible scene of millions of dead human-like creatures somehow dissolving in the water. He and his seamen are arrested and sentenced to prison, as the mysterious civilization is explained to have been created by mankind to survive the global thaw threatening the planet. He escapes to search for truth and evidence, but without having found any, returns and is executed. The book is a sharp contrast to the good world, looking for the coexistence of man and nature, side by side here without destroying each other.

Baturin’s fascinating fragmentary and elliptical novel Delfiinide tee (The Way of the Dolphins, 2009), continues the topic of the ocean, of the fragile and delicate world of harmony, love, sadness, men and dolphins on a coastline with a hotel named The Graveyard of Sunken Ships.

Nikolai Baturin passed away on May 17, 2019.


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