NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER • A symphonic oral history about the disintegration of the Soviet Union and the emergence of a new Russia, from Svetlana Alexievich, winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature
NAMED ONE OF THE TEN BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR BY THE WASHINGTON POST AND PUBLISHERS WEEKLY • LOS ANGELES TIMES BOOK PRIZE WINNER
NAMED ONE OF THE BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR BY
The New York Times • The Washington Post • The Boston Globe • The Wall Street Journal • NPR • Financial Times • Kirkus Reviews
When the Swedish Academy awarded Svetlana Alexievich the Nobel Prize, it cited her for inventing “a new kind of literary genre,” describing her work as “a history of emotions—a history of the soul.” Alexievich’s distinctive documentary style, combining extended individual monologues with a collage of voices, records the stories of ordinary women and men who are rarely given the opportunity to speak, whose experiences are often lost in the official histories of the nation.
In Secondhand Time, Alexievich chronicles the demise of communism. Everyday Russian citizens recount the past thirty years, showing us what life was like during the fall of the Soviet Union and what it’s like to live in the new Russia left in its wake. Through interviews spanning 1991 to 2012, Alexievich takes us behind the propaganda and contrived media accounts, giving us a panoramic portrait of contemporary Russia and Russians who still carry memories of oppression, terror, famine, massacres—but also of pride in their country, hope for the future, and a belief that everyone was working and fighting together to bring about a utopia. Here is an account of life in the aftermath of an idea so powerful it once dominated a third of the world.
A magnificent tapestry of the sorrows and triumphs of the human spirit woven by a master, Secondhand Time tells the stories that together make up the true history of a nation. “Through the voices of those who confided in her,” The Nation writes, “Alexievich tells us about human nature, about our dreams, our choices, about good and evil—in a word, about ourselves.”
Praise for Svetlana Alexievich and Secondhand Time
“The nonfiction volume that has done the most to deepen the emotional understanding of Russia during and after the collapse of the Soviet Union of late is Svetlana Alexievich’s oral history Secondhand Time.”—David Remnick, The New Yorker
Alexievich (Voices from Chernobyl), a Ukrainian-born Belarusian writer and winner of the 2015 Nobel Prize for Literature, documents the last days of the Soviet Union and the transition to capitalism in a soul-wrenching "oral history" that reveals the very different sides of the Russian experience. Revealing the interior life of "Homo sovieticus" and giving horror-laden reports of life under capitalist oligarchy, Alexievich's work turns Solzhenitsyn inside out and overpowers recent journalistic accounts of the era. Readers must possess steely nerves and a strong desire to get inside the Soviet psyche in order to handle the blood, gore, and raw emotion. For more than 30 years Alexievich has interviewed then-Soviets and ex-Soviets for this and previous books, encountering her subjects on public squares, in lines, on trains, and in their kitchens over tea. She spends hours recording conversations, sometimes returning years later, and always trying to go beyond the battered and distrusted communal pravda to seek the truths hidden within individuals. Her subjects argue with and lie to themselves; nearly everyone talks about love and loss in the context of war, hunger, betrayal, financial ruin, and emotional collapse. Yet with little intrusion from Alexievich and Shayevich's heroic translation, each voice stands on its own, joining the tragic polyphony that unfolds chapter by chapter and gives expression to intense pain and inner chaos.
Voices of Sorrow and Beaty
This is the first book I’ve read by Alexievich. Her technique is sometimes spare. I was occasionally confused, wishing for more background on who these people were, how Alexievich found them, when exactly she spoke with them. The main informants have mostly tragic stories to tell, some are truly horrific, but they are captivating story tellers. Their memories are crystal clear, they expertly weave their deep knowledge of Russian history and literature into the accounts of their lives. Their love of Russia, the vast countryside especially, and their depictions of familial love, and tragedy, were expressed in highly emotional, operatic ways. Many of the accompanying snippets of conversation Alexievich offers to round out the stories sounded more like the voices you would hear from people on the street: strident, angry, myopic, selfish. It was gripping to read all these accounts, but I found myself wondering how much fictional storytelling was part of it. Perhaps little. But I wanted to know.