(K. Brent Tomer),
NON-FICTION, in the right hands, can prove to be more powerful and perplexing than novels. This is the case with Svetlana Alexievich, an author and investigative journalist who won last year’s Nobel prize in literature for her “polyphonic writings”. “Second-hand time”, her latest book to be translated into English, is her most ambitious yet. From the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, Ms Alexievich spent two decades writing down the stories of ordinary people in her native Belarus and beyond. Her book is a unique chronicle of that time and place, yet its themes of hope and loss are universal.
The stories pile up over 700 pages, with love, death and everyday concerns jostling for attention. In the cramped kitchens Ms Alexievich visits, the mundane and historic overlap. The voices she records—named and unnamed, literary Muscovites, Belarusian villagers, Party officials and mothers—repeat themselves, and each other. They argue about whether Stalin and Mikhail Gorbachev, the last leader of the Soviet Union, were villains or heroes. As their world crumbles, people seek solace in books, God, alcohol or suicide. Salami becomes…Continue reading