Svetlana Alexievich was born in Ivano-Frankivsk, Ukraine, in 1948 and has spent most of her life in the Soviet Union and present-day Belarus, with prolonged periods of exile in Western Europe. Starting out as a journalist, she developed her own nonfiction genre, which gathers a chorus of voices to describe a specific historical moment. Her works include War s Unwomanly Face (1985), Last Witnesses (1985), Zinky Boys (1990), Voices fromChernobyl (1997), and Secondhand Time (2013). She has won many international awards, including the 2015 Nobel Prize in Literature for her polyphonic writings, a monument to suffering and courage in our time.
Praise for Svetlana Alexievich and Secondhand Time There are many worthwhile books on the post-Soviet period and Putin's ascent. . . . But the nonfiction volume that has done the most to deepen the emotional understanding of Russia during and after the collapse of the Soviet Union of late is Svetlana Alexievich's oral history Secondhand Time. --David Remnick, The New Yorker Like the greatest works of fiction, Secondhand Time is a comprehensive and unflinching exploration of the human condition. . . . Alexievich's tools are different from those of a novelist, yet in its scope and wisdom, Secondhand Time is comparable to War and Peace. --The Wall Street Journal Already hailed as a masterpiece across Europe, Secondhand Time is an intimate portrait of a country yearning for meaning after the sudden lurch from Communism to capitalism in the 1990s plunged it into existential crisis. A series of monologues by people across the former Soviet empire, it is Tolstoyan in scope, driven by the idea that history is made not only by major players but also by ordinary people talking in their kitchens. --The New York Times The most ambitious Russian literary work of art of the century . . . There's been nothing in Russian literature as great or personal or troubling as Secondhand Time since Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn's The Gulag Archipelago, nothing as necessary and overdue. . . . Alexievich's witnesses are those who haven't had a say. She shows us from these conversations, many of them coming at the confessional kitchen table of Russian apartments, that it's powerful simply to be allowed to tell one's own story. . . . This is the kind of history, otherwise almost unacknowledged by today's dictatorships, that matters. --The Christian Science Monitor Alexievich's masterpiece--not only for what it says about the fall of the Soviet Union but for what it suggests about the future of Russia and its former satellites. . . Stylistically, Secondhand Time, like her other books, produces a mosaic of overlapping voices... deepened by extraordinary stories of love and perseverance. --Newsweek A trove of emotions and memories, raw and powerful . . . [Secondhand Time] is one of the most vivid and incandescent accounts of [Soviet] society caught in the throes of change that anyone has yet attempted. . . . Alexievich stations herself at a crossroads of history and turns on her tape recorder. . . . [She] makes it feel intimate, as if you are sitting in the kitchen with the characters, sharing in their happiness and agony. --The Washington Post An enormous investigation of the generation that saw communism fall, [Secondhand Time] gives a staggeringly deep and plural picture of a people that has lost its place in history. --San Francisco Chronicle Secondhand Time, [Alexievich's] latest book to be translated into English, is her most ambitious yet. . . . Its themes of hope and loss are universal. . . . A professional listener, Ms. Alexievich manages the feat of being present and invisible at the same time. . . . The result is always warm and human, however dark the content. Many of the people the author meets simply want to talk, sharing memories they had held on to for years or decades. With Secondhand Time, Ms. Alexievich has built a monument to these survivors of the collapse of the Soviet Union; a monument in words. --The Economist [Alexievich's] writing is sui generis, blending the force of fact with the capaciousness of fiction to create a new, vital literary compound. --The Nation In Secondhand Time, the 2015 Nobel Laureate deftly orchestrates dozens of voices. . . . By letting her subjects keep their dignity, Alexievich has given us a fuller history of the fall of the Soviet Empire than we had before. By letting the vanquished speak, we might know better what, if anything, was actually won. --Chicago Tribune A compelling vision of the human condition. --Associated Press The Nobel Prize winner documents the last days of communism in the Soviet Union and the dawn of a new way of living in contemporary Russia. Through interviews with ordinary citizens, she finds the truth behind the headlines. --Time If you want to understand contemporary Russia, Secondhand Time is essential reading. --Newsday An epic chronicle of the fall of the Soviet Union and the emergence of a new Russia, in the unadorned voices of its ordinary citizens . . . Told in solos and choruses, her books have the rise and fall of a symphony. --Vogue Alexievich's most ambitious project to date--a panoramic study of ordinary lives affected by the downfall of the Soviet system. . . . By careful listening and editing, she turns the transcripts of an interview into a spoken literature that carries all the truth and emotional power of a great novel. --The New York Review of Books For her polyphonic writings, a monument to suffering and courage in our time. --Nobel Prize Committee For the past thirty or forty years [Alexievich has] been busy mapping the Soviet and post-Soviet individual, but [her work is] not really about a history of events. It's a history of emotions . . . a history of the soul. --Sara Danius, permanent secretary of the Swedish Academy In this spellbinding book, Svetlana Alexievich orchestrates a rich symphony of Russian voices telling their stories of love and death, joy and sorrow, as they try to make sense of the twentieth century, so tragic for their country. --J. M. Coetzee [Alexievich's] books are woven from hundreds of interviews, in a hybrid form of reportage and oral history that has the quality of a documentary film on paper. But Alexievich is anything but a simple recorder and transcriber of found voices; she has a writerly voice of her own which emerges from the chorus she assembles, with great style and authority, and she shapes her investigations of Soviet and post-Soviet life and death into epic dramatic chronicles as universally essential as Greek tragedies. . . . A mighty documentarian and a mighty artist. --Philip Gourevitch Alexievich's voices are those of the people no one cares about, but the ones whose lives constitute the vast majority of what history actually is. --Keith Gessen Riveting . . . Other oral histories have relied on a blended structure whereby the individual stories form the supporting elements to the historians' larger narrative; the grace and power of Alexievich's work is the focus on intimate accounts, which set the stage for a more eloquent and nuanced investigation. A must for historians, lay readers, and anyone who enjoys well-curated personal narratives. --Library Journal (starred review) [Alexievich] documents the last days of the Soviet Union and the transition to capitalism in a soul-wrenching 'oral history' that reveals the very different sides of the Russian experience. . . . [Her] work turns Solzhenitsyn inside out and overpowers recent journalistic accounts of the era. . . . She spends hours recording conversations, sometimes returning years later, and always trying to go beyond the battered and distrusted communal pravda to seek the truths hidden within individuals. --Publishers Weekly (starred review) A rich kaleidoscope of voices from all regions of the former Soviet Union . . . profoundly significant literature as history. --Kirkus Reviews (starred review) Absorbing and important. --Booklist (starred review)