Svetlana Alexievich, a Belarusian investigative journalist and historian, received the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2015. Her most important books are in fact not works of fiction, but the processing of hundreds of patiently collected testimonies of ordinary people: the testimony of women who served in the Great Patriotic War, the Second World War; those who experienced the war in Afghanistan; those who had been touched in one way or another by the nuclear catastrophe of Chernobyl in 1986; those Soviet citizens, later Russians, who had been through Stalinism, de-Stalinization, the Brezhnevian Stagnation and, finally, the advent of democracy.
Equipped with a tape recorder, Svetlana conducted lengthy, detailed interviews with witnesses she meets; she becomes their friend, confidante, a sympathetic ear. She was told what had sometimes never been told to anyone.
Then she composes her account, alternating between long and short testimonies, preceded by short introductory notes where she often illustrates the circumstances in which she met her interlocutors. There is a genius in her way of organizing the testimonies so that they do not appear disconnected, but form, little by little, a coherent narrative. Enmeshed in the heart of Russian destiny in a terrible century, the writer comes to understand the entire universe, and readers around the world have grasped the universal language.
An original historian
It is not entirely by chance that Alexievich asks her questions. She is not in search of a factual, documentary-style cold truth, but the inner echo of events, the tremors of the soul, a reservoir of humanity that is hidden in the heart of the worst events. “I follow,” she says “the traces of inner life; I make records of the soul. For me the path of a soul is more important than the event itself.” For this reason, it is right to recognize the writer’s work of editing and re-composition.