Svetlana Alexievich, the new Nobel Prize holder, praised by Swedish Academy ‘for her polyphonic writings, a monument to suffering and courage in our time’
Ms. Alexievich’s books are well known to our readers: War’s Unwomanly Face, Chernobyl Prayer, and Zinky Boys… They reveal personal thoughts and feelings under extreme conditions — such as war, catastrophe, collapse of a political system, and the destruction of ‘internal self’. Through these monologues, Svetlana creates a portrait of the epoch and, importantly, of general human history.
Ms. Alexievich’s last book — Second Hand Time — was simultaneously released in many countries. Some time earlier, this documentary novel was named the highlight at the Frankfurt Book Fair: the most influential in the literary world. Her books narrate the post-Soviet generation’s painful crisis of consciousness, affecting pride and honour, and historical injustice, our ability to forgive, and the psychology of victims and those who bring death.
As Svetlana once admitted on meeting readers at the Minsk International Book Fair, “One of my favourite Second Hand Time extracts ponders a man who believes that no ‘chemically pure’ evil exists. It’s impossible to look at a person and state that they are evil. One of my characters recollects that, in the 1930s, his father was imprisoned upon his neighbour Yura’s denunciation; meanwhile, he remembers that man helping them to repair the fence and joining them to go fishing. Afterwards, my character learnt that his beautiful aunt — who sang wonderfully — gave information against her brother, who later died in a camp. On becoming an adult, he asked her why she had done so and she replied, “In 1937, no one was in a position to act fairly. Everything is inter-reliant in life. We have to be guided by our inner conscience; this is where the fight takes place.”
The ‘fight’ for a Nobel Award saw the meeting of worthy rivals. According to bookmakers, first place should have gone to Kenya’s writer and playwright Ngugi was Thiong, with second place to extremely popular Japanese writer Haruki Murakami. The top of the list was also occupied by American prose writer Joyce Carol Oates, Norwegian playwright and prose writer Jon Fosse, and American Philip Roth.
Ms. Alexievich’s first press conference as a Nobel Prize holder gathered many reporters in Minsk, from various editions and countries. She named Vasil Bykov and Ales Adamovich as her inspiration, noting, “I’d like Belarusians to be proud of this award, as it belongs not only to me but to my characters, my parents and my grandfather, who studied alongside Yakub Kolas. It is the accumulation of humanitarianism. It’s not a personal achievement, but it’s great that it’s happened this way.”
Speaking of her attitude to this raving success, Svetlana notes that she isn’t affected by public matters, believing that what occurs inside us is more important. The awards ceremony for Nobel Prize winners will take place on December 10th: the day when the award’s founder, Swedish businessman and inventor Alfred Nobel, died.
Truly, Svetlana has been working for inner freedom. She isn’t a ‘state figure’, being rather an artist pondering modern global problems of life and death. She isn’t afraid of speaking or writing her mind and, as a result, regularly draws fire upon herself, inspiring negativity from those who aren’t members of the literary circle. Their reaction may derive from envy. However, as Belarusian writer Vladimir Korotkevich once said, lightning only strikes tall trees.
“Nobody likes to hear the truth,” Svetlana often remarks. Some view her as not fully Belarusian, as she writes in Russian. Not long ago, she was displeased by a ‘patriotic’ literary club, which viewed her as disloyal to the ideas of the ‘Russian world’. Much idle talk has been heard but, eventually, art won out. Her Nobel Prize sets the record straight. I personally consider Svetlana Alexievich to be a Belarusian writer. Owing to her, our literature, culture and country have gained incredible recognition. At present, we are witnessing an historical event. Probably, one day, some other Belarusian writers will receive Nobel Prize awards, but Svetlana is the first: it’ll be remembered forever.
President congratulates Svetlana Alexievich
To Nobel Prize winner, Alexievich Svetlana Alexandrovna
Dear Svetlana Alexandrovna!
Accept my wishes on being awarded the 2015 Nobel Prize for Literature. Your creative work has touched Belarusians and readers all over the world. I am sincerely glad for you. I strongly hope that this prize will serve the Belarusian state and the nation. I wish you health, happiness and new creative achievements for the benefit of native Belarus.
By Lyudmila Rublevskaya
President of the Republic of Belarus, Alexander LUKASHENKO
8 October, 2015