Indian readers haven’t been able to readNobel Prize winner Svetlana Alexievich till now because very few of her books have been translated into English, so here are 10 reasons (we can think of more, but let’s not go there!) why you must read Svetlana Alexievich:
1. Svetlana Alexievich is the 14th woman to win a Nobel Prize in literature, and the first writer of literary journalism to win a Nobel Prize. She is also the first person to receive the Nobel for books that are based entirely on interviews.
2. She writes in Russian, and her book War’s Unwomanly Face sold two million copies in 1985 in the U.S.S.R. alone.
3. Only three of her books—War’s Unwomanly Face, Zinky Boys and Voices from Chernobyl—have been translated into English before Second-Hand Time.
4. Her criticism of the Belarusian government, where she is from, led to her phone being tapped and she was banned from making public appearances. She lived abroad for 10 years, mostly in Western Europe.
5. She has in recent times been critical of the Vladimir Putin government, and the announcement of her win was greeted with vitriol ‘reminiscent of Soviet newspapers’ reactions to most of the earlier Russian-language Nobels.’ The Nobel committee was abused for awarding the prize to ‘“a Russophobe” as well as “a Jew and a lesbian.” (Alexievich is not Jewish and has never made any public statements about her personal life.)’
6. The title of Zinky Boys, Svetlana’s book on the Soviet Afghan War, comes from the cheap coffins ‘made of low-grade metal in which the remains of Soviet servicemen and women were sent back to the U.S.S.R’. After its publication in 1990, the KGB and the Russian military began a campaign of harassment against her, which culminated in a 1993 lawsuit.
7. Her book on the Chernobyl disaster, Voices from Chernobyl, is based on interviews with ‘more than 500 eyewitnesses, including firefighters, members of the cleanup team, politicians, physicians, physicists, and ordinary citizens, over 10 years.’
8. The Swedish Academy, which awards the Nobel prize in Literature, Permanent Secretary Sara Danius paid tribute to her work by saying: ‘For the past 30 or 40 years she’s been busy mapping the Soviet and post-Soviet individual. But it’s not really a history of events. It’s a history of emotions. What she’s offering us is really an emotional world. So these historical events that she’s covering in her various books – for example the Chernobyl disaster or the Soviet war in Afghanistan – are, in a way, just pretexts for exploring the soviet individual and the post soviet individual. She’s conducted thousands of interviews with children, women and men, and in this way she’s offering us a history of a human being about whom we didn’t know that much.’
9. Here is what Indian writers have said about Svetlana:
— Atul Gawande (@Atul_Gawande) May 22, 2016
‘Svetlana Alexievich was awarded the prize for capturing scenes like this from the lives of other people, when a banal moment may dissolve into the extraordinary. She is a collector of voices that tell, when taken together, a sentimental history of a time in place.’ — Manu Joseph, author of Serious Men
10. The Financial Times review of Second-Hand Time said: ‘She illuminates, without addressing the question explicitly, why Russian president Vladimir Putin retains the popularity he does in the face of falling living standards. Most of the voices Alexievich hears are “sovoks”, people raised and formed by Soviet civilisation. Yet even the young, born near or after its end, look back in anger at the loss of power and status: “Russia”, says one voice, “should never have been humiliated for so long.”…Running through many of the narratives, alongside regret that great power status was lost, is self-contempt: the conviction that Russians need a vozhd, a leader to discipline them into greatness.