Nikolai Baturin

PoemsNikolai Baturin. Photo: Alar Madisson


Short stories and novellas


About Nikolai Baturin

Nikolai Baturin (5. VIII 1936 - 17. V 2019) was a poet, playwright, and prosaist. His parents were descendants of the Russians living on the western shore of the lake Peipus. At the end of the tsarist era Baturin's family moved to Mulgimaa (Viljandi County). He was born in Arumetsa in Viljandi County. He attended an agricultural college from 1952‒1955 and eventually served in the navy, where he spent five years defending oil reserves in the Caspian Sea. He held other notable jobs, often close to nature. After his military service ended, he worked as a locksmith, a fisherman on a vessel, and in the oil fields, among other jobs. From 1965-1980, he was a contracted hunter in the Siberian taiga; he also participated in several geological expeditions to the Angara River in the 60s. In 1973, he became a member of the Estonian Writers’ Union.

As a writer, Baturin is known for his playful use of language. In addition to exploring the boundaries of dialect, specifically Mulgi, he employed and invented a rich vocabulary with a variety of archaisms, barbarisms, and neologisms. His work often pulls from his own personal experiences, dealing with themes of man’s place in the natural world and the balance between them. Baturin’s debut arrived in 1968 with the poetry collection Maa-alused järved ('Underground Lakes'), which contained six poems written in the Mulgi dialect. The poetry collections Väljadelt ja väljakutelt ('From the Squares and from the Fields', 1972) and Kajokurelend ('The Flight of the Stork', 1975)—the latter consisting only of poems in Mulgi dialect—further established his reputation as a poet of dialects.

Baturin did not shy away from experimentation. In 1974, he published the prose poem Varahilisel ajal ('At an Early Late Hour'), which poeticized his childhood memories. His subsequent poetry collections were Galerii (1977), inspired by painters (e.g., P. Brueghel and M. Chagall), Lüürakala ('The Lyrefish', 1978), and Poolusvaikus, vaikusepoolus ('The Silence of the Pole. The Pole of Silence', 1980), which fully embraced complex imagery and rich language, and Tirelilood ('Somersaults', 1980), consisting of a prose poem, a drama, and a short story. His final poetry collection to date, Sinivald ('The Blue Realm', 1990) consisted also of poems of nature written over a few decades.

His first publication of short stories, Kuningaonni kuningas ('King of the Royal Hut', 1973) pulled from Baturin’s experiences as a hunter, a recurring subject in some of his other work as well. His second compilation of short stories, Oaas ('Oasis', 1976) depicted a desert expedition. He wrote and illustrated a second prose poem Laiuvad laaned, kauguvad kõrved ('Forests Spreading Far and Wide', 1981), which was based on the tradition of the indigenous Evenks.

In addition to poetry and short stories, Baturin published several novels, including the philosophical Leiud kajast ('Findings from the Echo', 1977), the psychological Noor jää ('Young Ice', 1985), and Karu süda ('The Heart of the Bear', 1989), a voluminous novel about the journey of a hunter in the taiga who hikes in search for the true meaning of life and one’s self and is described as having a Finno-Ugric view of the world. For this novel, Baturin won the Eduard Vilde Literary Award in 1990. Karu süda has remained Baturin's most popular and acclaimed work. Feature film of the same name was also based on it (2001, directed by Arvo Iho).

In 1993, Baturin published the crime novel Mõrv majakal ('A Murder at the Light House') and Kartlik Nikas, lõvilakkade kammija ('Timid Nikas, The Comber of Lions’ Manes'). Other novels include Ringi vangid ('Prisoners of the Ring', 1996) and Apokalüpsis. anno Domini… ('Apocalypse. anno Domini…', 1997), which harbor science fiction elements thought to be a critique of spiritual deficiency that will lead humanity to its own destruction. The latter won second prize in a novel competition. Baturin's most voluminous novel Kentaur ('Centaur', 2003) pulls from Baturin’s experiences with the oil platforms, using the symbolism of fire and the problems brought about by our modern reliance on oil. Kentaur won the Literature Endowment Annual Award and the novel competition of the Estonian Writers` Union. Sõnajalg kivis ('A Fern in the Stone', 2006), a work of speculative fiction, focuses on the destruction of the oceans and ways man may co-exist with nature. Delfiinide tee ('The Way of the Dolphins', 2009) follows in the wake of the previous novel, focusing again on the ocean and man’s relationship with it. His final novels are Lendav hollandlanna ('The Flying Dutchwoman', 2012) and Mongolite unenäoline invasioon Euroopasse ('Mongols' Dreamy Invasion into Europe', 2016.)

Baturin’s novels rely on elements of genre novels, ranging from the fantastical to the criminal, in a post-modernist style. They explore vast landscapes: the ocean, the desert, the taiga and observe man’s place in the world. He explored environmental problems brought about by man’s greed and the possibilities of coexistence. He often gave his characters names similar to his own (Nikyas, Nikas, Nika etc).

As a playwright, Baturin combines elements of literature with the stage. Two stage plays were published in the book Teemandirada ('Diamond Path') in 1986 and three in the book Kummitus kummutis ('Ghost in a Chest of Drawers', 1994).

M. M.

Books in Estonian

Maa-alused järved: luuletusi 1963-1967. Tallinn: Eesti Raamat, 1968, 72 lk.
Väljadelt ja väljakutelt. Tallinn: Eesti Raamat, 1972, 92 lk.
Kajokurelend: luuletusi mulgi murden. Tallinn: Eesti Raamat, 1975, 96 lk.
Galerii. Tallinn: Eesti Raamat, 1977, 52 lk.
Lüürakala. Tallinn: Eesti Raamat, 1978, 70 lk.
Poolusevaikus; Vaikusepoolus: talvitusluuletusi 1979-1980. Tallinn: Eesti Raamat, 1980, 56 lk.
Tirelilood. Tallinn: Eesti Raamat, 1980, 221 lk. [Sisu: ’Varahilisel ajal’ (proosapoeem), ’Kahe kalda kaigud’ (luuletsükkel), ’Anekdoot Haroni venest’ (näidend).]
Sinivald: luuletuse mulgi murden, 1963-1983. Tallinn: Eesti Raamat, 1991, 204 lk.

Kuningaonni kuningas: laanejutustus. Tallinn: Eesti Raamat, 1973, 216 lk.
Leiud kajast. Tallinn: Eesti Raamat, 1977, 230 lk.
Noor jää: armastusromaan. Tallinn: Eesti Raamat, 1985, 144 lk. [2. trükk: Tallinn: Eesti Raamat, 2009, 207 lk.]
Karu süda. Tallinn: Eesti Raamat, 1989, 493 lk. [2. trükk: Tartu: Elmatar, 2001, 434 lk.]
Kartlik Nikas, lõvilakkade kammija: lapsepõlvemartüürium. Tallinn: Eesti Raamat, 1993, 469 lk.
Mõrv majakal: kriminaalromaan. Tallinn: Eesti Raamat, 1993, 173 lk.
Ringi vangid. Tallinn: Eesti Raamat, 1996, 213 lk.
Apokalüpsis anno Domini.... Tallinn: Eesti Raamat, 1997, 367 lk.
Kentaur. Tallinn: Eesti Raamat, 2003, 573 lk.
Sõnajalg kivis. Tallinn: Eesti Raamat, 2006, 188 lk.
Delfiinide tee: romantiline histooria. Tallinn: Eesti Raamat, 2009, 190 lk.
Lendav hollandlanna. Tallinn: Eesti Raamat, 2012, 143 lk.
Mongolite unenäoline invasioon Euroopasse. Tallinn: Menu Kirjastus, 2016, 135 lk. [E-raamat: Tallinn: Menu Kirjastus, 2016.]

Short stories
Varahilisel ajal. Tallinn: Perioodika (Loomingu Raamatukogu), 1974, 72 lk. [2. trükk: 'Tirelilood', Tallinn: Eesti Raamat, 1980, 221 lk.]
Oaas. Tallinn: Perioodika (Loomingu Raamatukogu), 1976, 86 lk.
Tirelilood. Tallinn: Eesti Raamat, 1980, 221 lk. [Sisu: ’Varahilisel ajal’ (proosapoeem), ’Kahe kalda kaigud’ (luuletsükkel), ’Anekdoot Haroni venest’ (näidend).]
Laiuvad laaned, kauguvad kõrved: ladvajutte, võravesteid lastele ja lapselikele: proosapoeem. Tallinn: Eesti Raamat, 1981, 78 lk.
Fööniksburgi karussell. Tallinn: Kultuurileht (Loomingu Raamatukogu), 2017, 130 lk. [Sisaldab jutte 'Aken allikaga aeda'. 'Kristuseveri ja kirsiviin' ja 'Värvilised värvud' ning näidendit 'Heledate varjude õhtu'.]

Tirelilood. Tallinn: Eesti Raamat, 1980, 221 lk. [Sisu: ’Varahilisel ajal’ (proosapoeem), ’Kahe kalda kaigud’ (luuletsükkel), ’Anekdoot Haroni venest’ (näidend).]
Teemandirada: lugemisteater. Tallinn: Eesti Raamat, 1986, 157 lk.
Kummitus kummutis: lugemisteater. Pärnu: Perona, 1993, 301 lk. [Sisu: ’Kummitus kummutis’, ’Ilissa’, ’Lummaküla lustimeistrid’.]
Fööniksburgi karussell. Tallinn: Kultuurileht (Loomingu Raamatukogu), 2017, 130 lk. [Sisaldab jutte 'Aken allikaga aeda'. 'Kristuseveri ja kirsiviin' ja 'Värvilised värvud' ning näidendit 'Heledate varjude õhtu'.]