Space For Rent

Space For Rent
Tuesday, October 13, 2015, Aswin 28, 1422 BS, Zilhaj 28, 1436 Hijr

Honouring the Belarusian voice of nuclear survivors
Masum Billah
Published :Tuesday, 13 October, 2015,  Time : 12:00 AM  View Count : 30
Unlike other literary awards, the Nobel has no shortlist, no long list, no hyped announcements of judges and juries. It is, in other words, open to endless speculation. The names of Belarusian writer and journalist Svetlana Alexievich, Japanese novelist and spaghetti-enthusiast Haruki Murakami , and Kenyan novelist Ngugi Wa Thiong'o were waving in the air that either of them would win this prestigious award this year and finally we came to learn the name of 67-year-old Belarusian Svetlana Alexievich. She is the 14th woman to receive this honour. Her investigative reports from a politically turbulent Russia, along with her literary style of writing, have made her favourite among critics for many years.
The litterateur Alexievich expresses the great chronicled tragedies of the Soviet Union and its collapse, World War II, the Soviet war in Afghanistan, the Chernobyl nuclear disaster and the suicides that ensued from the death of Communism. Her first novel, "The Unwomanly Face of the War," published in 1985 and based on the previously untold stories of women who had fought against the Nazi Germans, sold more than two million copies. Her books have been published in nineteen countries. The significant features of her literature is that she collected hundreds of interviews from people whose lives were affected by these tumultuous events, putting them together in works that were like a 'musical composition.' She went around Russia interviewing people after the fall of the Soviet Union, in an attempt to surmise what the collective post -Soviet psyche was. It's a micro-historical survey of Russia in the second half of the 20th century that goes up to the Putin years. We can learn the theme of her works when she clandestinely says "I love the good Russian world, the humanitarian Russian world, but I do not love the Russian world of Beria, Stalin and Shoigu." The Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov expresses reactions thus--- "Of course, we congratulate her. But I'm sure she does not possess the information to make a positive evaluation of what is happening in Ukraine."
Alexievich was born on 31 May 1948 in the Ukrainian town of Ivano-Frankovsk into a family of a serviceman. Her father is Belarusian and her mother is Ukrainian. After her father's demobilisation from the army the family returned to his native Belarus and settled in a village where both parents worked as schoolteachers. Alexievich left school to work as a reporter on the local paper in the town of Narovl. She studied journalism in college, and after graduation, worked at a newspaper in Brest, near the Polish border. Later, she began searching for a literary form that would allow her to capture the lives and voices of individuals at the centre of historic events. She gravitated toward oral history, which allowed her to adopt her subject's voices like a chameleon and to reflect a diverse range of experience. Because of her criticism of the government in Belarus, a former Soviet republic, Ms Alexievich periodically lived abroad, in Italy, France, Germany and Sweden, among other places. In a 2013 interview with German television, she said she hoped the international attention would give her 'a degree of protection' in Belarus, where press freedom is under constant threat.
Alexievich has written short stories, essays and reportage but said she has found her voice under the influence of the Belarusian writer Ales Adamovich, who developed a genre which he variously called the 'collective novel,' 'novel-oratorio,' 'novel-evidence,' 'people talking about themselves' and the 'epic chorus.' "For the past 30 or 40 years Alexievich was busy mapping the Soviet and Post-Soviet individual", Danius said, "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." She has conducted thousands of interviews with children, women and men, and in this way she is 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 Voices From Chernobyl, Alexievich interviews hundreds of those affected by the nuclear disaster, from a woman holding her dying husband despite being told by nurses that "that's not a person anymore, that's a nuclear reactor" to the soldiers sent in to help, angry at being "flung there, like sand on the reactor." In Zinky Boys, she gathers voices from the Afghan war: soldiers, doctors, widows and mothers.
"I don't ask people about socialism, I ask about love, jealousy, childhood, old age," Alexievich writes in the introduction to 'Second-Hand Time,' which is due from independent publisher Fitzcarraldo Editions in 2016. While Alexievich has developed a global audience over the years, currently just three of her books are available in English, though more translations are in the works. In the United States, Ms Alexievich is best known for the oral history "Voices From Chernobyl," which was published in 2005. The book, which won the National Book Critics Circle Award, is a compilation of interviews with survivors of the nuclear reactor accident. She spent ten years visiting the Chernobyl zone and conducted more than five hundred interviews. Her most recent book, 'Second-Hand Time,' which was published in 2013 and is currently being translated into English, is her biggest and most ambitious. Bela Shayevich, who is currently translating Alexievich into English for Fitzcarraldo, also paid tribute to her skills as an interviewer which leaves her work "resounding with nothing but the truth." "The truth of life in the Soviet Union and Post-Soviet Russia is not an easy thing to swallow," Shayevich added. "I'm thrilled that this win will mean that more readers will be exposed to the metaphysical dimensions of her subjects' survival and despair through the tragedies of Soviet history. I hope that in reading her, more people will see the ways that suffering - even suffering brought on by geopolitical circumstances which are foreign to many readers."
We congratulate Alexievich on her winning the prestigious Nobel Prize in Literature for bringing people closer to one another through her works and chronicling the horrors of war and life under the repressive Soviet regime.
Masum Billah works as an education
specialist in BRAC Education Programme and is in the BELTA Executive Committee.
Email: [email protected]

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