No­bel lau­re­ate Alex­ievich attends Shanghai Book Fair

China Daily (Canada) - - SHANGHAI - By ZHANG KUN in Shanghai


Svet­lana Alex­ievich, the win­ner of last year’s No­bel Prize in Lit­er­a­ture, graced the Shanghai Book Fair and Shanghai In­ter­na­tional Lit­er­ary Fes­ti­val ear­lier this month and gave a talk at Si­nan Man­sions about her new book and how she went about writ­ing it.

Alex­ievich last vis­ited China in 1989 when she was mem­ber of a Soviet delegation. Both China and Rus­sia have since un­der­gone dras­tic changes in the past decades, said the 68-year-old, who was in­vited to the fair by China CITIC Press, which had re­cently pub­lished her book Sec­ond Hand Time in Chi­nese.

The Be­laru­sian au­thor’s lat­est book con­cludes a se­ries of five books which ex­plores Soviet iden­tity and ques­tions such as “Why did the gu­lag camp ex­ist?”, “Why have we failed to trade free­dom with our suf­fer­ing?” and “Why couldn’t we build the ide­al­is­tic so­cial­ism?”

“Rus­sian peo­ple are dis­ap­pointed in the fu­ture and are ea­ger to leave be­hind their past, and this will un­avoid­ably re­sult in anx­i­ety and loss of hope. It’s im­por­tant to let them un­der­stand why the past is lost and why they have been un­able to step into the con­tem­po­rary world,” said Alex­ievich of the in­ten­tions of her book.

In­stead of ad­dress­ing ma­jor so­cial is­sues, Alex­ievich said that she chose to fo­cus on “so­cial­ism in the fam­ily” and let or­di­nary peo­ple present their per­cep­tions of is­sues that have sur­faced dur­ing the times of Rus­sian lead­ers such as Vladimir Lenin, Joseph Stalin, Mikhail Gor­bachev and Vladimir Putin.

Pro­fes­sor Chen Xiaom­ing of Peking Univer­sity was one of the first to read the Chi­nese edi­tion of Sec­ond Hand Time and he said he “was over­whelmed af­ter the first 10 pages” of a book that vividly re­vealed the trau­matic ex­pe­ri­ences of peo­ple. He also praised Alex­ievich’s “pow­er­ful nar­ra­tive and won­dered “how the au­thor man­aged to com­bine truth with drama.”

Alex­ievich re­vealed dur­ing the talk that she had in­ter­viewed peo­ple for three to four hours, some­times even a whole day, and switched to us­ing a tape recorder af­ter re­al­iz­ing that she could not achieve an ac­cu­rate ac­count of a per­son’s tale by tak­ing notes. She added that she would find her nar­ra­tive path and build the plot through emo­tions af­ter sift­ing through the ac­counts of thou­sands of peo­ple.

“It is the small fig­ures who speak truth­ful an­swers. I let peo­ple speak for them­selves,” said Alex­ievich.

Born in 1948 to a Be­laru­sian father and Ukrainian mother, Alex­ievich spent her child­hood in the coun­try­side where she en­joyed lis­ten­ing to sto­ries told by elderly peo­ple. She later be­came a jour­nal­ist, though she didn’t iden­tify her work as jour­nal­ism. She cred­ited Be­laru­sian writer Les Adamovich for hav­ing helped her find her own lit­er­ary path. Adamovich was the per­son who coined her style of writ­ing, call­ing it “col­lec­tive novel” or “epic cho­rus”.

Many of Alex­ievich’s works have been pub­lished in Chi­nese, in­clud­ing The Un­wom­anly Face of the War, The Boys in Zinc and Voices from Chenobyl, which de­picts life in the af­ter­math of the nu­clear disas­ter.


Svet­lana Alex­ievich and Pro­fes­sor Chen Xiaom­ing speak to the au­di­ence dur­ing the an­nual Shanghai Book Fair.

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