Dreamy, melancholy but ultimately hopeful account of veteran environmental journalist Thomson’s odyssey to an ancient, still relatively untouched lake at the cultural crossroads of Asia.
Just north of Mongolia, Siberia’s Lake Baikal is truly one of a kind. Formed when the earth’s surface cracked more than 25 million years ago, it is the world’s oldest body of fresh water and the biggest (roughly 23,000 cubic kilometers). Imagine, the author suggests, a hole so big that it could hold all five Great Lakes and provide earth’s six billion residents with three liters of water per person per day for 3,000 years. Thomson, senior editor of NPR’s award-winning nature program “Living on Earth,” weaves his personal narrative together with the story of the lake, the land and its hardy indigenous people, the Buryats. He depicts a real-life El Dorado, one of the last remaining sites of natural wonder on a planet homogenized by globalization and threatened by global warming. Even as Thomson illustrates what makes Baikal special—the microscopic shrimp that purify its waters; the bizarre scaleless fish called golomyanka, which can withstand depths that would crush a human; the magical nerpa, a freshwater seal—he can’t avoid the portents of imminent loss. Pollutants threaten the shrimp, the number of golomyanka are shrinking and the lake is warming, which means the nerpa have less to eat and don’t give birth to as many pups. Inviting readers to imagine life beneath the lake’s surface, Thomson’s companionable prose voices a deep love of nature and great affinity for the region’s rich cultural and natural history.
Exhaustively researched and lyrically written—a welcome addition to any library.