This name uses Eastern Slavic naming customs; the patronymic is Alexandrovna and the family name is Alexievich.Native name Святлана Аляксандраўна Алексіевіч
Born Svetlana Alexandrovna Alexievich31 May 1948 (age 67)
Stanislav, Ukrainian SSR, Soviet Union
Notable awards Nobel Prize in Literature (2015)
Peace Prize of the German Book Trade (2013)
Prix Médicis (2013)
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.
Born in the west Ukrainian town of Stanislav (since 1962 Ivano-Frankivsk) to a Belarusian father and a Ukrainian mother, 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 Neman in Minsk (1976).
She went on to a career in journalism and writing narratives from interviews with witnesses to the most dramatic events in the country, such as World War II, the Soviet-Afghan war, the fall of the Soviet Union, and the Chernobyl disaster. After persecution by the Lukashenko regime, 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.
Her books are described as a literary chronicle of the emotional history of the Soviet and post-Soviet individual, as told by means of a carefully constructed collage of interviews. According to Russian writer and critic Dmitry Bykov, her books owe much to the ideas of Belarusian writer Ales Adamovich, who insisted that the only way to describe the horrors of the 20th century was not to create fiction but to document the testimonies of the witnesses. Belarusian poet Uladzimir Nyaklyayew called Adamovich “her literary godfather”. He also named the documentary novel “I’m from the burned village” (Belarusian: Я з вогненнай вёскі, by Ales Adamovich, Janka Bryl and Uladzimir Kalesnik) about the villages burned by the Nazi troops during the occupation of Belarus as the main single book that has influenced Alexievich’s attitude to literature Alexievich admitted the influence of Adamovich and added, among others, Belarusian writer Vasil Bykaŭ as another source of impact on her. 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 a highly praised oral history of the Chernobyl disaster (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, War’s Unwomanly Face, came out in 1985. It was repeatedly reprinted and sold more than two million copies. The book was finished in 1983, but published only two years later because of “pacifism, naturalism and dethronement the heroic image of the Soviet woman”. 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 war time. The war seen through women’s and children’s eyes revealed a whole 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 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: Voices from Chernobyl in 1999 and Second-hand Time in 2013, both translated into Belarusian. As a result, Alexievich was 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.
The Unwomanly Face of War, (extracts), from Always a Woman: Stories by Soviet Women Writers, Raduga Publishers, 1987
War’s Unwomanly Face, Moscow : Progress Publishers, 1988, ISBN 5-01-000494-1
Voices from Chernobyl: The Oral History of a Nuclear Disaster (Dalkey Archive Press 2005; ISBN 1-56478-401-0)
Zinky Boys: Soviet Voices from the Afghanistan War (W W Norton & Co Inc 1992; ISBN 0-393-03415-1) Other edition: Zinky boys: Soviet voices from a forgotten war (The ones who came home in zinc boxes), translated by Julia and Robin Whitby, London: Chatto & Windus, 1992, ISBN 0-7011-3838-6
Awards and honors
Alexievich has been awarded many international awards, including:
1996 Tucholsky-Preis (Swedish PEN)
1997 Andrei Sinyavsky Prize
1998 Leipziger Book Prize on European Understanding
1999 Herder Prize
2005 National Book Critics Circle Award, Voices from Chernobyl
2007 Oxfam Novib/PEN Award
2011 Ryszard Kapuściński Award for literary reportage (Polish)
2013 Peace Prize of the German Book Trade
2013 Prix Médicis essai, La Fin de l’homme rouge ou le temps du désenchantement
2015 Nobel Prize in Literature
She is a member of the advisory committee of the Lettre Ulysses Award.