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Secondhand Time: The Last of the Soviets

Svetlana Alexievich Bela Shayevich

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Random House
24 May 2016
History; European history; Social & cultural history
From the 2015 winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature, Svetlana Alexievich, comes the first English translation of her latest work, an oral history of the disintegration of the Soviet Union and the emergence of a new Russia. Bringing together dozens of voices in her distinctive documentary style, Secondhand Time is a monument to the collapse of the USSR, charting the decline of Soviet culture and speculating on what will rise from the ashes of Communism. As in all her books, Alexievich gives voice to women and men whose stories are lost in the official narratives of nation-states, creating a powerful alternative history from the personal and private stories of individuals. Svetlana Alexievich was born in the Ukraine in 1948 and grew up in Belarus. As a newspaper journalist, she spent her early career in Minsk compiling first-hand accounts of World War II, the Soviet-Afghan War, the fall of the Berlin Wall and the Chernobyl meltdown. Her unflinching work-`the whole of our history...is a huge common grave and a bloodbath'-earned her persecution from the Lukashenko regime and she was forced to emigrate. She lived in Paris, Gothenburg and Berlin before returning to Minsk in 2011. She has won a number of prizes, including the National Book Critics Circle Award, the Prix Medicis, and the Oxfam Novib/PEN Award. In 2015, she was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature. Bela Shayevich is a writer, translator and illustrator. Her translations have appeared in journals such as Little Star, St. Petersburg Review, and Calque. She was the editor of n+1 magazine's translations of the Pussy Riot closing statements. Of Alexievich's writing, she says it is `resounding with nothing but the truth'. `The force of her work, the source of its power and plausibility, is the choice of a generation (her own) as a major subject and the close attention to its major inflection point, which was the end of the Soviet Union...

Her method is the close interrogation of the past through the collection of individual voices; patient in overcoming cliche, attentive to the unexpected, and restrained in the exposition, her writing reaches those far beyond her own experiences and preoccupations, far beyond her generation, and far beyond the lands of the former Soviet Union.' New York Review of Books `For the past thirty or forty 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.' Sara Danius, Permanent Secretary, Swedish Academy `Alexievich builds her narratives about Russian national traumas...by interviewing those who lived them, and immersing herself deeply in their testimonies. But her voice is much more than the sum of their voices.' New Yorker `[A] masterpiece...a magnificent work of literary art. This vast panorama can justly be regarded I think as the War and Peace of our age.' Age `It's a meaty read and also incredibly significant and respectful to those whose stories appear in its pages.' Readings `A mosaic of pain and loss, hope and betrayal, fear and anger. It is profoundly moving. At its heart though is a deep empathy for a people who have experienced some of the worst humanity, yet found a way to cope. It is both inspiring and devastating.' Herald Sun `Secondhand Time is a majestic portrait of Soviet life.' Australian `A rich and textured history.' Best Books of 2016, New Zealand Listener `A deeply empathic oral history of the disintegration of the Soviet Union; open at any page and you will be moved.' Best Non-Fiction Books of 2016, Readings `If I had to punt now on which book will be on the most best-of lists here and overseas, it would be Secondhand Time: The Last of the Soviets, the stunning oral history by the 2015 Nobel laureate Svetlana Alexievich.' Australian `Harrowing...

To describe the book as a vast collection of oral testimonies is to under-esti-mate the achievement of this superbly crafted history of human feelings. ' Louise Adler, Best Books of 2016, Australian `The goddess of ``high journalism''- that form without a name-is Svetlana Alexievich...

Her masterpiece, Secondhand Time: The Last of the Soviets, [is] a panorama of the lives of ordinary people who lived through the collapse of the Soviet Union. I've never read anything to touch her work-the tremendous scale of her inquiry, and yet the intimacy of the experiences she records. Her powers of compression fill me with awe.' Helen Garner, Best Books of 2016, Australian `The book of the year, if not the decade...

Alexievich is not the author so much as the compiler of this collective self-portrait. The quality of focus, attention and empathy in her work of listening and interviewing is balanced by the depth of emotion-love, desire, longing for grace-that she records in her subjects...

Both in formal terms, as a piece of literature, and in moral terms, as a tribute to the human spirit, this is an essential work.' Nicolas Rothwell, Best Books of 2016, Australian `At once intimate and cosmic...

The individual testimony is sometimes harrowing-enough to make me drop the book into my lap, tilt my head back and close my eyes - but upon reflection the voices come together to become a kind of untamed fugue about love: love of family, love of home, love of country, love of the natural world.' Melinda Harvey, Best Books of 2016, Australian `Scenes from Svetlana Alexievich's majestic Secondhand Time: The Last of the Soviets have lingered with me like fever dreams.' Mireille Juchau, Best Books of 2016, Australian `An utterly authentic and often harrowing history of extraordinary times.' Listener `One of the most compelling books that I've read in a while...

Full of hope and disillusionment, humour and anger, it's a moving testament to the lives history leaves in its wake.' Diane Stubbings, Australian, Books of the Year 2017
By:   Svetlana Alexievich
Translated by:   Bela Shayevich
Imprint:   Random House
Country of Publication:   United States
Dimensions:   Height: 236mm,  Width: 165mm,  Spine: 41mm
Weight:   771g
ISBN:   9780399588808
ISBN 10:   0399588809
Pages:   496
Publication Date:   24 May 2016
Audience:   General/trade ,  ELT Advanced
Format:   Hardback
Publisher's Status:   Active

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.

Reviews for Secondhand Time: The Last of the Soviets

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)

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