RFE/RL’s Belarus Service has published a one-of-a-kind collection of commentary by and about 2015 Nobel Prize for literature winner Svetlana Alexievich.
Alexievich On Liberty is a compilation of her appearances on Radio Svaboda, as the service is known locally, including interviews with the author, transcripts of round table discussions in which she participated, and reviews of her work written by service journalists. The collected texts span from 1993 through coverage of reaction to her Nobel win in 2015.
Her books are known for a literary method that combines oral histories from many eyewitnesses put down in elegant prose in order to chronicle some of the most tragic periods in Soviet and post-Soviet history. Among the best known are Voices From Chernobyl, in which she interviewed more than 500 witnesses to the 1986 nuclear disaster, and Zinky Boys, a collection of first-hand accounts of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.
As a critic of Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka, she has been persona non grata on Belarusian state media since he came to power in 1994, but Radio Svaboda has closely followed her literary career, amassing the dozens of pieces that compose Alexievich On Liberty.
Radio Svaboda Director Alexander Lukashuk compared Alexievich’s body of work to Dante’s Devine Comedy, explaining that both have to be understood as a whole, not just in terms of the individual books, in order to appreciate the genius of the structure. “She took aspects of life in a totalitarian state and described them brick by brick to build a cathedral,” he said. “And when you focus on just one brick, you can’t see the cathedral.”
Lukashuk says when he first approached Alexievich with the idea of publishing a collection of her comments on Radio Svaboda, she was reluctant, saying it would be too difficult to convey her spoken words effectively in writing. He respected her wishes about publishing, but went ahead with the collection and printed one copy to give her as a gift. After reading it, she wrote to Lukashuk:
“I looked at this book with a strange feeling that the words were said by a different person in a different country. I have finished reading the book and my opinion has changed. My friends also read it and liked it very much. A very good composition; the time is captured, and a lot of work has been done. Not because of me, but because it’s a document of our time that will be more and more interesting as time goes by in life after empire. Let’s publish.”
The book was compiled and edited by Radio Svaboda’s Siarhej Navumchyk and will be officially launched with Alexievich in Minsk on April 14.
“In her Nobel acceptance lecture Alexievich referred to herself as a human ear, constantly absorbing the words spoken around her,” said Lukashuk. “But we believe she is also a voice, and a powerful voice--sometimes contradictory, sometimes angry, sometimes hard to agree with, but it is the voice of our time and in that way it is our own voice.”