Blog | Literature | Non-Fiction

Svetlana Alexievich: Second-hand Time

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After reading a glowing review of Svetlana Alexievich's latest book Second-hand Time. The Demise of the Red (Wo)man upon the publication of the Dutch translation I instantly added it to my reading list. When I learned that Alexievich had been awarded the 2015 Nobel Prize in Literature I moved it to the top of my list. It is indeed a fascinating book and I urge everyone to read it.

Second-hand Time is a collection of voices, stories, fragments and witness accounts. They tell of the individual and collective experience of existence in the grinding jaws of history. Taken together these micro histories give rise to a macro history. They paint a kaleidoscopic picture of the years before and after the failed coup against Gorbatchev in August 1991. Alexievich has interviewed people, both pro and con, who were present during the demonstrations that followed the coup; she has interviewed people who fought under Stalin in the Second World War and people who were sent to labour camps in Siberia. She gives a voice to the people who are disillusioned by the past 10-20 years of Russian history and who, as a consequence, now long for the past and she gives a voice to the people who are perplexed that Lenin and Stalin are back in fashion.

Now that I've read Second-hand Time I feel like I have a better understanding of Russia. I also have greater empathy for what people of Russia and ex-Soviet states have gone through. I was astounded by the first-hand accounts of the Gulag, the ethnic violence in Armenia and the war in Chechnya.

I look forward to reading more of Svetlana Alexievich.

An excerpt from Voices from Chernobyl by Svetlana Alexievich.

Another excerpt from Voices from Chernobyl.

Boys in Zinc by Svetlana Alexievich.

The Man Who Flew Like a Bird excerpt from a collection of more than a dozen tales of suicide that Alexievich published in Russia in 1994.