After Hours

Belarus’ Svetlana Alexievich Receives the 2015 Nobel Prize In Literature

“The Nobel Prize in Literature for 2015 is awarded to the Belarusian author Svetlana Alexievich for her polyphonic writings, a monument to suffering and courage in our time,” said Professor Sara Danius, Permanent Secretary of the Swedish Academy announcing the Award on October 8. Later she added that for the last three or four decades Alexievich had been busy mapping the Soviet and post-Soviet individual. Even though she talks about events, her books are full of emotions and all events are just a pretext to explore the individual and the human soul.

“It’s not an award for me but for our culture, for our small country, which has been caught in a grinder throughout history,” Alexievich said during a press conference in Minsk after the announcement of the prestigious prize.

Alexievich’s first novel, War’s Unwomanly Face, published in 1985, is based on previously untold stories of women who fought against Nazi Germany in World War II. The book is a confession, a document and a record of people’s memory. The author interviewed more than 200 women for it, describing how young girls, who dreamed of becoming brides, became soldiers in 1941. The Soviet press called the book”a vivid reporting of events long past, which affected the destiny of the nation as a whole.” The most important thing about the book is not so much the frontline episodes as women’s heart-rending experiences in the war.

One of her most famous novels, Voices From Chernobyl, published in 1998, details the psychological and physical ordeal of people who took part in the cleanup of the 1986 nuclear disaster. It is the first book to present personal accounts of the tragedy. Alexievich interviewed hundreds of people affected by the meltdown—from innocent citizens to firefighters to those called in to clean up the disaster—and their stories reveal the fear, anger, and uncertainty with which they still live.

“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 hypnotised 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 realised to the full. In this way I can be simultaneously a writer, reporter, sociologist, psychologist and preacher,” she said in an interview.

Svetlana Alexievich was born on the 31 May 1948 in the Ukrainian town of Ivano-Frankovsk. Her father is Belarusian and her mother is Ukrainian. After her father’s demobilisation from the army the family returned to Belarus and settled in a village where both parents worked as schoolteachers. Already in her school days she wrote poetry and contributed articles to the school newspaper. At that time she needed two years work record (as was the rule in those days) in order to enroll in the Department of Journalism of Minsk University, entering it in 1967. During her university years she won several awards at the republican and all-Union competitions for scholarly and students’ papers.

Her novels have now been published in 19 countries, but none has come out in Belarus since 1994. She has also written three plays and the screenplays for 21 documentary films.

Alexievich is the first Belarusian who has ever been awarded by the Swedish Academy and the eleventh woman who has received the Nobel Prize in Literature. She is also the eighth laureate in literature coming from emerging Europe. So far there have been four Poles —Henryk Sienkiewicz (1905), Władysław Reymont (1924), Czesław Miłosz (1980) and Wisława Szymborska (1996), one Serbo-Croat —  Ivo Andrić (1961), one Czech — Jaroslav Seifert (1984), and one Hungarian — Imre Kertész (2002).

(photo source: YouTube)