ⓘ Svetlana Alexievich

Svetlana Alexievich

ⓘ Svetlana Alexievich

Svetlana Alexandrovna Alexievich is a Belarusian investigative journalist, essayist and oral historian who writes in Russian. She was awarded the 2015 Nobel Prize in Literature "for her polyphonic writings, a monument to suffering and courage in our time". She is the first writer from Belarus to receive the award.


1. Background

Born in the west Ukrainian town of Stanislav since 1962 Ivano-Frankivsk to a Belarusian father and a Ukrainian mother, Svetlana Alexievich grew up in Belarus. After finishing school she worked as a reporter in several local newspapers before graduating from Belarusian State University 1972 and becoming a correspondent for the literary magazine Nyoman in Minsk 1976.

During her career in journalism, Alexievich specialised in crafting narratives based on witness testimonies. In the process, she wrote oral histories of several dramatic events in Soviet history: the Second World War, the Afghan War, the fall of the Soviet Union, and the Chernobyl disaster. After political persecution by the Lukashenko administration, she left Belarus in 2000. The International Cities of Refuge Network offered her sanctuary and during the following decade she lived in Paris, Gothenburg and Berlin. In 2011, Alexievich moved back to Minsk.


2. Literary work

Alexievichs books trace the emotional history of the Soviet and post-Soviet individual through carefully constructed collages of interviews. According to Russian writer and critic Dmitry Bykov, her books owe much to the ideas of Belarusian writer Ales Adamovich, who felt that the best way to describe the horrors of the 20th century was not by creating fiction but through recording the testimonies of witnesses. Belarusian poet Uladzimir Nyaklyayew called Adamovich "her literary godfather". He also named the documentary novel Im From Fire Village Belarusian: Я з вогненнай вёскі by Ales Adamovich, Janka Bryl and Uladzimir Kalesnik, about the villages burned by the German troops during the occupation of Belarus, as the main single book that has influenced Alexievichs attitude to literature. Alexievich has confirmed the influence of Adamovich and Belarusian writer Vasil Bykaŭ, among others. She regards Varlam Shalamov as the best writer of the 20th century.

Her most notable works in English translation include a collection of first-hand accounts from the war in Afghanistan Zinky Boys: Soviet Voices from a Forgotten War and an oral history of the Chernobyl disaster Chernobyl Prayer / Voices from Chernobyl. Alexievich describes the theme of her works this way:

If you look back at the whole of our history, both Soviet and post-Soviet, it is a huge common grave and a blood bath. An eternal dialog of the executioners and the victims. The accursed Russian questions: what is to be done and who is to blame. The revolution, the gulags, the Second World War, the Soviet–Afghan war hidden from the people, the downfall of the great empire, the downfall of the giant socialist land, the land-utopia, and now a challenge of cosmic dimensions – Chernobyl. This is a challenge for all the living things on earth. Such is our history. And this is the theme of my books, this is my path, my circles of hell, from man to man.

Her first book, Wars Unwomanly Face, came out in 1985. It was repeatedly reprinted and sold more than two million copies. The book was finished in 1983 and published in short edition in Oktyabr, a Soviet monthly literary magazine, in February 1984. In 1985, the book was published by several publishers, and the number of printed copies reached 2.000.000 in the next five years. This novel is made up of monologues of women in the war speaking about the aspects of World War II that had never been related before. Another book, The Last Witnesses: the Book of Unchildlike Stories, describes personal memories of children during wartime. The war seen through womens and childrens eyes revealed a new world of feelings. In 1993, she published Enchanted with Death, a book about attempted and completed suicides due to the downfall of the Soviet Union. Many people felt inseparable from the Communist ideology and unable to accept the new order surely and the newly interpreted history.

Her books were not published by Belarusian state-owned publishing houses after 1993, while private publishers in Belarus have only published two of her books: Chernobyl Prayer in 1999 and Second-hand Time in 2013, both translated into Belarusian. As a result, Alexievich has been better known in the rest of world than in Belarus.

She has been described as the first journalist to receive the Nobel Prize in Literature. She herself rejects the notion that she is a journalist, and, in fact, Alexievich’s chosen genre is sometimes called" documentary literature”: an artistic rendering of real events, with a degree of poetic license. In her own words:

I’ve been searching for a literary method that would allow the closest possible approximation to real life. Reality has always attracted me like a magnet, it tortured and hypnotized me, I wanted to capture it on paper. So I immediately appropriated this genre of actual human voices and confessions, witness evidences and documents. This is how I hear and see the world – as a chorus of individual voices and a collage of everyday details. This is how my eye and ear function. In this way all my mental and emotional potential is realized to the full. In this way I can be simultaneously a writer, reporter, sociologist, psychologist and preacher.”

26 October 2019 Alexievich was elected chairman of the Belarusian PEN Center.


3. Awards and honours

Alexievich has received many awards, including:

  • 2015 Nobel Prize in Literature
  • Lenin Komsomol Prize 1986 - for the book "У войны не женское лицо"
  • 2018 Belarusian Democratic Republic 100th Jubilee Medal
  • 2013 Prix Medicis essai, La Fin de lhomme rouge ou le temps du desenchantement Время секонд хэнд
  • Oktyabr Magazine Prize 1984
  • Премия имени Андрея Синявского of Novaya Gazeta - "За творческое поведение и благородство в литературе" 1997
  • 1997 Andrei Sinyavsky Prize
  • 2011 Ryszard Kapuscinski Award for literary reportage Poland
  • 1998 Leipziger Book Prize on European Understanding
  • 2011 Angelus Award Poland
  • 1999 Herder Prize
  • Nikolay Ostrovskiy literary award of the Union of Soviet Writers 1984
  • 2007 Oxfam Novib/PEN Award
  • Friendship of the Peoples Magazine Prize 1997
  • 2014 Officer of the Order of the Arts and Letters France
  • Литературная премия имени Константина Федина of the Union of Soviet Writers 1985
  • 2017 Arthur Ross Book Award Bronze Medal given by the Council on Foreign Relations for her book Secondhand Time
  • Триумф премия Russia, 1997
  • 1996 Tucholsky-Preis Swedish PEN
  • Literaturnaya Gazeta Prize 1987
  • 2013 Peace Prize of the German Book Trade
  • 1998 Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung-Preis
  • Order of the Badge of Honour USSR, 1984
  • 2005 National Book Critics Circle Award, Voices from Chernobyl
  • Saint Euphrosyne of Polotsk Medal Медаль имени Святой Евфросиньи Полоцкой
  • 2017 Golden Plate Award from the American Academy of Achievement.

Alexievich is a member of the advisory committee of the Lettre Ulysses Award. She will give the inaugeral Anna Politkovskaya Memorial Lecture at the British Library on 9 October 2019. The lecture is an international platform to amplify the voices of women journalists and human rights defenders working in war and conflict zones.


4. Books

  • Turkish Kadın Yok Savasın Yuzunde. Kafka Yayınevi, 2016. Translated by Gunay Çetao Kızılırmak. ISBN 978-605-4820-39-9.
  • German New, expanded edition; ubersetzt von Ganna-Maria Braungardt. Hanser Berlin, Munchen 2013, ISBN 978-3-446-24525-9.
  • English The Unwomanly Face of War: An Oral History of Women in World War II, Random House, 2017, ISBN 978-0399588723
  • У войны не женское лицо U voyny ne zhenskoe litso, War Does Not Have a Womans Face, Minsk: Mastatskaya litaratura, 1985.
  • Portuguese A Guerra não Tem Rosto de Mulher. Elsinore, 2016. ISBN 9789898843579
  • German Der Krieg hat kein weibliches Gesicht. Henschel, Berlin 1987, ISBN 978-3-362-00159-5.
  • Georgian ომს არ აქვს ქალის სახე. თბილისი: ინტელექტი, 2017. ISBN 9789941470356
  • English The Unwomanly Face of War, extracts, from Always a Woman: Stories by Soviet Women Writers, Raduga Publishers, 1987.
  • English War’s Unwomanly Face, Moscow: Progress Publishers, 1988, ISBN 5-01-000494-1.
  • Georgian უკანასკნელი მოწმეები. თბილისი: არტანუჯი, 2018. ISBN 978-9941-478-19-2
  • German Die letzten Zeugen. Kinder im Zweiten Weltkrieg. Neues Leben, Berlin 1989; neu: Aufbau, Berlin 2005, ISBN 3-7466-8133-2. Originaltitel: Poslednyje swedeteli. Neubearbeitung und Aktualisierung 2008. Aus dem Russischen von Ganna-Maria Braungardt. Berlin: Hanser-Berlin 2014, ISBN 978-3446246478
  • Turkish Son tanıklar - Çocukluğa Aykırı Yuz Oyku. Kafka Yayınevi, 2019. Translated by Aslı Takanay. ISBN 978-605-4820-81-8.
  • Russian Последние свидетели: сто недетских колыбельных. Moscow, Palmira, 2004, ISBN 5-94957-040-5
  • Portuguese As ultimas Testemunhas: Cem historias sem infancia. Elsinore, 2017. ISBN 9789898864178
  • Последние свидетели: сто недетских колыбельных Poslednie svideteli: sto nedetskikh kolybelnykh, The Last Witnesses: A Hundred of Unchildlike Lullabys, Moscow: Molodaya Gvardiya, 1985
  • English Last Witnesses: An Oral History of the Children of World War II. Random House, 2019 ISBN 9780399588754, translated by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky.
  • English, US Zinky Boys: Soviet Voices from the Afghanistan War. W Norton 1992 ISBN 0-393-03415-1, translated by Julia and Robin Whitby.
  • Цинковые мальчики Tsinkovye malchiki, Boys in Zinc, Moscow: Molodaya Gvardiya, 1991.
  • German New, expanded edition; Hanser Berlin, Munchen 2014, ISBN 978-3-446-24528-0.*Зачарованные смертью Zacharovannye smertyu, Enchanted with Death, Moscow: Slovo, 1994. ISBN 5-85050-357-9
  • Turkish Çinko Çocuklar. Kafka Yayınevi, 2018. Translated by Serdar Arıkan & Fatma Arıkan. ISBN 978-605-4820-64-1.
  • Portuguese Rapazes de Zinco: A geração sovietica caida na guerra do Afeganistão. Elsinore, 2017. ISBN 9789898864000
  • English, UK Boys in Zinc. Penguin Modern Classics 2016 ISBN 9780241264119, translated by Andrew Bromfield.
  • German Zinkjungen. Afghanistan und die Folgen. Fischer, Frankfurt am Main 1992, ISBN 978-3-10-000816-9.
  • German Seht mal, wie ihr lebt. Russische Schicksale nach dem Umbruch. Berlin ცინკის ბიჭები. თბილისი: არტანუჯი, 2017. ISBN 978-9941-463-58-7
  • German Im Banne des Todes. Geschichten russischer Selbstmorder. Fischer, Frankfurt am Main, 1994, ISBN 3-10-000818-9).
  • Зачарованные смертью Zacharovannye Smertyu, Enchanted with Death Belarusian: 1993, Russian: 1994
  • German Tschernobyl. Eine Chronik der Zukunft. Aufbau, Berlin 2006, ISBN 3-7466-7023-3.
  • English, UK Chernobyl Prayer: A Chronicle of the Future. Penguin Modern Classics 2016 ISBN 978-0241270530, translated by Anna Gunin and Arch Tait. New translation of the revised edition published in 2013.
  • Turkish Çernobil Duası - Geleceğin Tarihi. Kafka Yayınevi, 2017. Translated by Aslı Takanay. ISBN 978-605-4820-52-8.
  • Чернобыльская молитва Chernobylskaya molitva, Chernobyl Prayer, Moscow: Ostozhye, 1997. ISBN 5-86095-088-8
  • Portuguese. Vozes de Chernobyl: Historias de um desastre nuclear., Elsinore, 2016. ISBN 9789898831828
  • Georgian ჩერნობილის ლოცვა. თბილისი: არტანუჯი, 2015. ISBN 978-9941-445-34-7
  • English, US Voices from Chernobyl: The Oral History of a Nuclear Disaster. Dalkey Archive Press 2005 ISBN 1-56478-401-0, translated by Keith Gessen.
  • German Secondhand-Zeit. Leben auf den Trummern des Sozialismus. Hanser Berlin, Munchen 2013, ISBN 978-3-446-24150-3; als Taschenbuch: Suhrkamp, Berlin 2015, ISBN 978-3-518-46572-1.
  • Portuguese O Fim do Homem Sovietico. Elsinore, 2017, ISBN 978-972-0-04740-3
  • Turkish Ikinci El Zaman - Kızıl Insanın Sonu. Kafka Yayınevi, 2016. Translated by Sabri Gurses. ISBN 978-605-4820-38-2.
  • Время секонд хэнд Vremya sekond khend, Second-hand Time, Moscow: Vremia, 2013. ISBN 978-5-9691-1129-5
  • Belarusian Час сэканд-хэнд Канец чырвонага чалавека / Святлана Алексіевіч. Перакл. з руск. Ц. Чарнякевіч, В. Стралко. - Мн.: Логвінаў, 2014. - 384 с. - Бібліятэка Саюза беларускіх пісьменнікаў "Кнігарня пісьменніка" ; выпуск 46. - ISBN 978-985-562-096-0.
  • English, US Secondhand Time: The Last of the Soviets. Random House 2016 ISBN 978-0399588808, translated by Bela Shayevich.
  • Georgian სექენდ ჰენდის დრო. თბილისი: არტანუჯი, 2017. ISBN 978-9941-463-47-1
  • Polish Czasy secondhand. Koniec czerwonego czlowieka. Czarne 2014 ISBN 978-83-7536-850-5, translated by Jerzy Czech
  • Brazilian Portuguese O Fim do Homem Sovietico. Companhia das Letras, 2016, ISBN 978-8535928266
  • Ukraine or whose writings are closely associated with that country. Svetlana Alexievich born 1948 Ukrainian - born Belarusian novelist, journalist, works
  • Imre Kertesz Hungary 1997 Antonin J. Liehm Czech Republic 1998 Svetlana Alexievich Belarus 1998 Ilma Rakusa Switzerland 1998 Andreas Tretner Tyskland
  • Savitsky Chaim Soutine Sergey Voychenko Ossip Zadkine Ales Adamovich Svetlana Alexievich Guillaume Apollinaire, Belarusian mother Isaac Asimov Maksim Bahdanovich
  • Written Down on Doors, the testimony of Nikolai Fomich Kalugin by Svetlana Alexievich from her book Voices from Chernobyl The Irish Film Board provided
  • notable writers such as: Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Adonis, Cesar Aira, Svetlana Alexievich Laurie Anderson, Margaret Atwood, Paul Auster, Julian Barnes, Anne
  • Michail Ryklin, Wolfgang Muller, Sylvere Lotringer, Eliot Weinberger, Svetlana Alexievich and Vaclav Belohradsky. An interview in issue 86, with politician
  • Syria Hrant Dink Turkey 2007 Fatou Jaw - Manneh Gambia journalist Svetlana Alexievich Belarus writer Lydia Cacho Ribeiro Mexico writer Ekbal Baraka
  • In 2005, Dalkey Archive Press published Gessen s translation of Svetlana Alexievich s Voices from Chernobyl Russian: Tchernobylskaia Molitva an oral
  • 2016 unveiled The Royal Society. 6 August 2016. Nobel laureate Svetlana Alexievich heads longlist for UK s top nonfiction award 20 September 2016

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