Belarussian writer wins Nobel Prize

STOCKHOLM/MINSK: Belarussian author Svetlana Alexievich won the Nobel Prize for Literature on October 8 for her portrayal of the harshness of life in the Soviet Union and in her first public response denounced Russia’s intervention in Ukraine as an “invasion”.

The Swedish Academy said Alexievich’s work, which chronicles the lives of Soviet women during World War II as well as the consequences of the 1986 nuclear disaster in Chernobyl and the Soviet military adventure in Afghanistan, was “a monument to suffering and courage in our time”.

Alexievich 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”, the academy said in awarding the $ 972,000 prize.

“By means of her extraordinary method — a carefully composed collage of human voices — Alexievich deepens our comprehension of an entire era,” the academy said.

Born in Ukraine in 1948, Alexievich lived in exile for many years because of her criticism of the Belarussian government and after returning home four years ago has kept a low profile, staying out of politics.

But after the prize was announced she obliquely criticised Belarus’s hardline leader Alexander Lukashenko and denounced Russian forces for their involvement in the separatist conflict in neighbouring Ukraine. “It is occupation, a foreign invasion,” she said adding that she wept when she saw photographs of those killed during pro-European street protests in the Ukrainian capital last year.

“I love the good Russian world, the humanitarian Russian world, but I do not love the Russian world of Beria, Stalin and Shoigu,” she said, referring to Soviet leader Josef Stalin, the security chief responsible for Stalin-era mass purges, Lavrenty Beria, and current Russian defense minister, Sergei Shoigu.

On Belarus, she said she would not vote in a presidential election due to take place there this month. “I will not vote in the elections because we know who will win, that Lukashenko will win,” she said.

Alexievich said the prize would enable her to devote herself to two new writing projects.

“For money I can buy one thing, I buy freedom. I take a very long time to write my books — from five to 10 years,” she told Swedish television after the prize announcement.

“I have two new ideas for two new books, so I am glad I will be free now to work on them.”

Alexievich worked as a teacher and a journalist after finishing school, later living abroad for many years in Sweden, Germany and France.

“Real people speak in my books about the main events of the age such as the war, the Chernobyl disaster, and the downfall of a great empire,” she said in a biographical text published on her website. “But I don’t just record a dry history of events and facts, I’m writing a history of human feelings,” she said.

Her books, primarily written in Russian, include Voices from Chernobyl – Chronicle of the Future, and Zinky Boys – Soviet voices from a forgotten war, a portrayal of Soviet Union’s war in Afghanistan.

Her style

Alexievich’s documentary style of writing became popular in the former Soviet Union in the 1980s. But she has long been an uncomfortable writer for the authorities due to her humanistic, emotional tales of peoples’ fates entangled in major historic developments.

One of her best-known works is War’s Unwomanly Face, which took several years to get published as Soviet authorities saw it as subversive and undermining the myth of the Soviet army’s victory in World War II. In the book, she offers an unusual account of the war, moving away from military narrative and telling the tales of Soviet women who took on male roles, fought on the front lines, killed and got killed, but still looked at the shattered world around them from a feminine perspective, focusing on human suffering and basic emotions free of any pathos.

“She has invented a new literary genre. She transcends journalistic formats and has pressed ahead with a genre that others have helped create,” said Sara Danius, permanent secretary of the Swedish Academy.

“It’s more or less like a musical composition, so that in the end you have something like a vast chorus.”

Literature was the fourth of this year’s Nobel prizes. The prize is named after dynamite inventor Alfred Nobel and has been awarded since 1901 for achievements in science, literature and peace in accordance with his will.