The Kaloshin paradox

By Igor Severgin

REFERENCE The village of Ust'-Koksa lies at the head of the Uimon valley, at the confluence of the Koksa and the Katun Rivers, 400 km from the centre of the Republic, Gorno-Altaisk. Ust'-Koksa has a bank, a communications point, a market with a large selection of mountain honey, lots of shops, a cafe and even a cinema. A bus runs from Gorno-Altaisk daily stopping at Tuekta, Ust'-Kan, Ust'-Koksa and Chendek (journey time about 13 hours). Ust'-Koksa is home to the main offices of the Katun Biosphere Reserve.

Kaloshin's entire property consists of a house, a dog and eighty thousand books, although, strictly speaking, the books do not belong to him but to the library, and the situation with the house is not that simple either. It holds a large public reading room and an endless labyrinth of book shelves, which just leaves...the dog.

The pickings are slim but the Altai librarian does not seem too bothered by his financial situation. Ten years ago when Leonid Kaloshin first began creating a library there was enough room in the house for him and the books but eventually he ended up sacrificing the bedroom. Then Leonid Kaloshin build an extension, a small room (2.40 to 2.40) in place of a porch, in which he placed a couch and a personal bookcase.

"Do you not find it a bit cramped?" - I enquire, looking around with some skepticism at the room which more resembles a closet than a bedroom. "Ah, what do I need really ... I am on my feet all day. I only come in here to sleep," Kaloshin answers drily. He does not like to discuss his personal life, especially with journalists: "One came and wrote such rubbish that after that half the village would not talk to me.”

When the idea came to me to visit Kaloshin he was at the very peak of his, to put it mildly, chilly relationship towards the press which would explain why he was gloomy and taciturn. He glanced indifferently at my business card, led me through the rooms chock-a-block with books, occasionally nodding: "Here is the classical literature, here is the philosophical literature ... ", showed me some amateur photographs and sat down to fill out various library cards. At that point I understood that my audience with him had come to an end, but I plucked up the courage to ask him one more question.

“How did you come up with the idea to create a library here? It is after all not a Snickers stall.”

“It kind of happened by itself. When I moved here from Minsk I brought my books with me. My friends would borrow them to read and I made a note of who took what. I ended up with a whole pile of bits of paper. Then one day the idea came to me to open a real library. The idea came and went. But when it popped into my head the next time I thought about it more seriously. Repetitive thoughts are like a morse code for a person's fate. You have to listen to them.

And on that note we parted company, although not for long.

Traces of Lightning

Kaloshin's house stands at the foot of a mountain. If you climb a bit higher up you can see all of Ust'-Koksa, on the outskirts of which stands the library. If instead of looking down you gaze across towards the distant mountain ranges, on a clear day you can just make out the glittering peaks of Mount Belukha. The logic is simple: everyone sees what they want to see.

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Photographs by Vladimir Reshetnikov, Anatoly Levochkin. Translation by Joanna Dobson

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