Svetlana Alexievich Is Rare Nonfiction Winner of Nobe-NEW YORK TIMES
Svetlana Alexievich taking home the Nobel Prize in Literature on Thursday was especially sweet news to her fellow journalists. Anne Applebaum, whose books include a study of the Soviet concentration camps, wrote on Twitter: “among other things Svetlana Alexievich Nobel is a long-overdue acknowledgment of the literary value of non-fiction.” (The announcement also brought its annual crop of jokes on social media. Claire Fallon of The Huffington Post: “another nobel prize in literature announced, another unconscionable snub of Jewel.”)
Philip Gourevitch, whose account of Rwanda’s genocide, “We Wish to Inform You That Tomorrow We Will Be Killed With Our Families,” is one of the most acclaimed nonfiction books of the past 20 years, wrote a prescient piece for The New Yorker last year. In it, he celebrated the fact that Ms. Alexievich was listed among the favorites for the 2014 Nobel. “Is it possible that the Nobel committee might finally reverse the ignoble treatment of what we call ‘nonfiction writing’ and admit that it is literature?” Mr. Gourevitch wrote.
Ms. Alexievich is best known to English-language readers for “Voices From Chernobyl,” an oral history about the nuclear disaster. In The New York Times Book Review, Nicholas Confessore wrote: “Grim and grotesque, the stories accrete across the pages like the radionuclides lodged in the bodies of those who survived.”
“Zinky Boys: The Record of a Lost Soviet Generation,” about the effects of the decade-long Soviet war in Afghanistan that began in 1979, was published in an English translation in 1992. John Lloyd, reviewing it for The London Review of Books, called it a “sad, sometimes unreadably sad book,” and described its method:
It consists of a series of interviews presented as short narratives, without interpolations from the author. People speak for themselves, in other words, which was neither a Soviet nor a pre-Soviet literary practice. Svetlana Alexievich, a young Belorussian journalist, has managed to escape from the leaden disciplines of Soviet journalism in which she must have been trained, to discover this mode of presenting her material, and has used it well, if at times repetitiously.
Describing her own work, Ms. Alexievich once said: “I would say I’m an independent writer. I can’t call myself a Soviet writer, or even a Russian writer. . . . I would say I’m a writer of that epoch, the Soviet utopia, writing the history of that utopia in each of my books. . . . I continue writing about the little man versus the great utopia. I describe the disappearance of this utopia and how it affects the common person.”
Coverage of Ms. Alexievich and her work:
“Zinky Boys” Review (London Review of Books)
Video of 2005 Panel Discussion: “Confronting the Worst: Writing and Catastrophe”
Interview With Ana Lucic
Excerpt of “Voices From Chernobyl” (The Paris Review)
Excerpt of “Voices From Chernobyl” (n+1)