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The 2015 Nobel Prize in Literature: It’s Svetlana Alexievich

By Susan Harris

Belarusian journalist Svetlana Alexievich has won the 2015 Nobel Prize in literature for "her polyphonic writings, a monument to suffering and courage in our time.” Sara Danius, the permanent secretary of the Swedish Academy, noted, “For the past thirty or forty years she’s been busy mapping the Soviet and post soviet individual, but it’s not really about a history of events. It’s a history of emotions—what she’s offering us is really an emotional world, so these historical events she’s covering in her various books, for example the Chernobyl disaster, the Soviet war in Afghanistan, these are in a way just pretexts for exploring the Soviet individual and the post-Soviet individual. She’s conducted thousands and thousands of interviews with children, with women and with men, and in this way she’s offering us a history of human beings about whom we didn’t know that much . . . and at the same time she’s offering us a history of emotions, a history of the soul.”

In an interview, Alexievich said: "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." You can read an excerpt from her collection of stories of love, Wondrous Deer of the Eternal Hunt, translated by Marian Schwartz, in our April 2005 PEN World Voices Issue.

Published Oct 8, 2015   Copyright 2015 Susan Harris

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