A few days before the New Year, forty days had passed since the death of Honoured Artist of Belarus, poet and prose writer Anatoly Zhuk. For many years, he was also known as Father Frost at Minsk Christmas festivals. A sturdy fellow, he left this world, as people say, in his creative heyday. In May, he celebrated his 60th birthday. In the summer, he had been writing new sonnets and swimming in the Nieman. He was helping his brother lay the foundations for a sauna, in Yeremichi in Korelichi district of Grodno region — the place where he was born and returned for holidays
Looking at his books, his latest novel — Boulevard — still smells of the printing press. My copy of his poetry collection Sorrow is inscribed by him ‘For memories after the lightest days of our life and creative work…’. I am reading his words about Yeremichi…
He described his native land with the ardour of a man who loves it with great passion. Zhuk persuaded us to visit his village ‘just once’ to see how wide the Nieman was (almost touching the village houses), to walk in forests full of mushrooms and taste crunchy Antonovka apples…
Indeed, we travelled in Anatoly’s Zhiguli car to the place where, as the poet once said, the land is particularly bright. It proved to be true. The earth in Yeremichi is sandy, white yellow with some clay. Anatoly’s house was situated close to where archaeologists have discovered late Stone Age settlements, several thousand years old. He was so proud of this, saying that our forefathers knew where to settle. He was also very proud of his family name, joking, “Zhuks are beetles.”
During that trip we had a lot of fun, laughing and joking and singing ‘our youth is still with us’, about ‘ducks that fly high’. The memory brings to mind the smell of quietly rustling needles in the forest, surrounding the tiny village of Yeremichi. The carpet of chanterelle mushrooms was so thick I was afraid to step upon it. I tasted the best thing ever: podkolot, cooked by Zhuk in the best folk traditions. He fried white mushrooms in a cast-iron pan, with onions and white sauce… And how good his sauerkraut was!
Yeremichi is as strong today as it was twenty years ago. Now, we go again to Anatoly’s place; unfortunately, not to visit but to say goodbye to him — forever.
Near Zhuk’s family house (Nikolay, his older brother, a doctor, lives and works in Bobruisk) there are around twenty cars, and a bus that has brought Anatoly’s colleagues from the Young Spectator’s Theatre and a crowd of people. His fellow villagers liked him very much. In the garden, there are several novelties: the foundations for the sauna, a strong wooden table — things that brought much inspiration to the poet.
Alexey Dudarev, playwright and Art Director of the Belarusian Army Theatre: My friend Anatoly Zhuk dedicated himself to literature, poetry and theatre, where he played around a hundred roles. Perhaps, this was the reason why he didn’t have a family. We shouldn’t judge whether it was a good or bad decision. He lived the way he lived, the way he could, the way he thought life should be. He was a talented actor, a gifted poet and a writer. Besides, he was my friend and godfather to my son. As a creative person, I know what it is to have a ‘sharpened life perception’, searching for the essence of existence. Zhuk, with his rebellious individuality, had this too. It was reflected in his works. Sometimes, we argued about art and about the danger of it: one may plunge into a fictitious world to such an extent that reality may seem an illusion. Anatoly knew where to draw the line…
Natalia Kravchenko, actress with the Young Spectator’s Theatre: When a man lives close to you, reads you his poetry, complains of melancholy or rapturously tells you about his book, you can say you know him. Only when he leaves you forever, do you understand the huge role he played in your life. We performed together in plays such as ‘Fathers’ Youth’, ‘My Village Beyond the River’ and ‘Bamby’. We often quarrelled, discussed and made peace. Anatoly used to be different: furious and self-disciplined, sometimes even tight like a spring, inspired and drained, but always very sincere. I remember working on ‘Bamby’, where he played the Lead. Producer Yuri Mironenko asked him to find this powerful character’s weakness, the Achilles heel. Tolya found it; in his last parting with Bamby, his strong hands suddenly became helpless and one could see the pain in the heart of his character.
Anatoly was very generous, but not in the popular sense of everyday kindness. Living on his own, he was used to saving everything. Being a person who lived for his art, he thought little of small ‘philistine joys’ like new clothes. At the same time, he could shower friends with flowers and Champagne. He was also very generous in his friendships, making everything beautiful. Once, he spent his entire royalty on treating the theatre company in a restaurant for the whole day. Moreover, Tolya used to give his poems as gifts. He was proud of them and wanted everybody to rejoice with him. ‘If my verses mean at least something, I will cry and will not hide my tears. It is my soul being judged. The poet’s soul is essential’. In the theatre, he was ‘significant’. Sometimes difficult, sharp or too frank, he’d publicly struggle against farfetchedness and dullness. Today, there are few people who live this way. He was the last of the Mohicans. Theatre has changed. We talked a lot about it. He couldn’t accept commonplace works and never kept silent at meetings. Indeed, our theatre lost a real individual. It is difficult to realise that we will never hear his loud voice again or his theatrical laughing behind the scenes.
Yet why? Why are we so embarrassed to pay each other compliments? We sing Okudzhava songs, at weekends and when we are in a good mood, when our feelings soar. We promise ourselves that, tomorrow, we’ll tell friends and colleagues how we love them. But tomorrow arrives… and we decide to keep quiet, feeling uneasy. Only when someone dies do we proclaim our respect and love, when it is too late. I never told my friend Zhuk about my warm feelings for his cheerful and talented individuality. At the days of the Panorama Theatre Festival, during the interval at the Yanka Kupala National Academic Drama Theatre, I saw him speaking passionately with People’s Artist Arnold Pomazan. I regret to say that I was tired and didn’t call him to tell him how well he managed to convey the tender soul of his cold and self-reserved Colonel Kinchin in Nikolay Pinigin’s The Moth (the Belarusian entry in the festival programme). Actors need our warm words about their roles; it’s true that they seek approval as children do.
Igor Sidorchik, actor with the Young Spectator’s Theatre: Zhuk was the foundation of the theatre, its core figure. His departure is a great loss for the theatre and personally for me: this man with a rich soul, searching and suffering, was my friend and teacher.
The last time we spoke was after the opening night of Vitaly Dudin’s film Cadet. Tolya came to my office to bring me Moths’ Revenge, that was used for the script (mentioned during the contest organised by Belarusfilm). Then he brought Boulevard, his first novel about theatrical bohemian life, published this year. He promised to present a collection of sonnets for publication.
I had never seen him so balanced and calm. Usually, he was worrying about something, especially about the theatre. He said it was undergoing ‘complete overhaul and women’s direction’. Alongside The Moth, he performed the role of Duke Vladimir’s General Dobrynya in Polochanka (based on A. Dudarev’s play). He also played the Earl of Dorincourt in Little Lord Fauntleroy. What will happen to those roles now?
Yuri Kulik, Young Spectator’s Theatre Director: There is no other actor of Zhuk’s dramatic type. We are not talking about the introduction of new actors into ‘Polochanka’ and ‘The Moth’. Perhaps, we will manage to preserve ‘Little Lord Fauntleroy’. It is well received by audiences. The play should be kept, to the memory of Zhuk and to the play’s director Nikolay Androsik.
…On a dull November day, Yeremichi buried Anatoly Zhuk one hour before sunset. The sun looked out briefly and, with its light, the land became spectacularly white. It made me to believe that Anatoly’s soul was soaring above and no longer suffered.
I dreamt that I was alone,
Standing in tall fields of grass.
A cranes’ sharp wedge
Was seen distantly in the sky...
Just like them, above the earth,
I would hang like a thin thread...
The only difference:
They will return and I never will
By Valentina Zhdanovich
Comeback. For good.
[b]A few days before the New Year, forty days had passed since the death of Honoured Artist of Belarus, poet and prose writer Anatoly Zhuk. For many years, he was also known as Father Frost at Minsk Christmas festivals. A sturdy fellow, he left this world, as people say, in his creative heyday. In May, he celebrated his 60th birthday. In the summer, he had been writing new sonnets and swimming in the Nieman. He was helping his brother lay the foundations for a sauna, in Yeremichi in Korelichi district of Grodno region — the place where he was born and returned for holidays[/b]Looking at his books, his latest novel — Boulevard — still smells of the printing press. My copy of his poetry collection Sorrow is inscribed by him ‘For memories after the lightest days of our life and creative work…’. I am reading his words about Yeremichi…He described his native land with the ardour of a man who loves it with great passion. Zhuk persuaded us to visit his village ‘just once’ to see how wide the Nieman was (almost touching the village houses), to walk in forests full of mushrooms and taste crunchy Antonovka apples…