Belarus' Svetlana Alexievich wins Nobel Literature Prize

Books (above) by Belarussian writer Svetlana Alexievich (left) on display at the Swedish Academy in Stockholm, where she was announced the winner of the Nobel Literature Prize yesterday.
Books (above) by Belarussian writer Svetlana Alexievich on display at the Swedish Academy in Stockholm, where she was announced the winner of the Nobel Literature Prize yesterday.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE
Books (above) by Belarussian writer Svetlana Alexievich (left) on display at the Swedish Academy in Stockholm, where she was announced the winner of the Nobel Literature Prize yesterday.
Books by Belarussian writer Svetlana Alexievich (above) on display at the Swedish Academy in Stockholm, where she was announced the winner of the Nobel Literature Prize yesterday.PHOTO: REUTERS

STOCKHOLM • Belarussian writer Svetlana Alexievich has won the 2015 Nobel Literature Prize "for her polyphonic writings, a monument to suffering and courage in our time", the Swedish Academy said.

The 67-year-old is only the 14th woman to be awarded the Nobel Literature Prize. She takes home a prize of 8 million Swedish kronor (S$1.4 million).

Alexievich has drawn international acclaim with her emotional accounts of the Chernobyl disaster and World War II, based on witness accounts.

 

Chronicling such horrors in the first person through the words of witnesses, she began tape-recording accounts of female soldiers who took part in World War II while she was working as a local newspaper reporter in the 1970s.

The resulting book, War's Unwomanly Face, was long barred from publication because it focused on personal tragedies and did not emphasise the role of the Communist Party. It was finally published in 1985 under the perestroika reforms.

Alexievich later used the same technique of first-person testimonies to document the despair of mothers who lost their sons in the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan - in Zinky Boys.

"I need to catch a person at a moment when they have been shaken up," Alexievich told Russia's Ogonyok weekly magazine. "It's very important to listen when someone is speaking up. I always keep my ear to the ground."

In 1998, she published Voices From Chernobyl, a collection of horrifying accounts from people who had worked on the nuclear cleanup of the 1986 disaster. The fallout affected Belarus more than any other country.

Since Mr Alexander Lukashenko came to power in 1994, Alexievich's books have not been published in Belarus and she has lived most of her life on writers' scholarships in Italy, Germany, France and Sweden.

Alexievich has openly criticised Mr Lukashenko's tight control of Belarus under a Soviet-style economic system and the country's continued use of the death penalty.

"We see who is leading us - this is the time of a triumph of mediocrity," she said in a 2013 interview with the newspaper, Belorusskaya Delovaya Gazeta.

She has also weighed into the debate over the crisis in Ukraine by praising protesters who ousted Kremlin-backed leader Viktor Yanukovych in February last year for trying to shatter the links with the country's Soviet history.

"Ukraine is an example for all. The desire to break completely with the past is worthy of respect," she said in an interview.

The author has angered the literary and intellectual elite in Belarus, however, by writing in Russian, not in the Belarussian language.

In an interview with Germany's Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung daily, Alexievich was quoted as saying: "I write only in Russian and see myself as a part of Russian culture. The Belarussian language is very rural and immature as literature."

She later said that she had been misquoted in the interview, which came out after she won the Peace Prize of the German Book Trade in 2013.

The outspoken writer has also condemned the growing domination of socially conservative and Orthodox Christian beliefs in Russia.

The Nobel awards week continues today with the other most closely watched Nobel award, the Peace Prize.

The Economics Prize will wrap up this year's Nobel season on Monday.

The laureates will receive their prizes at formal ceremonies in Stockholm and Oslo on Dec 10, the anniversary of the 1896 death of prize creator Alfred Nobel, a Swedish philanthropist and scientist.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 09, 2015, with the headline 'Belarus' Svetlana Alexievich wins Nobel Literature Prize'. Print Edition | Subscribe