The Nobel prize-winning author on using oral history to convey the horrors of war, her regard for Dostoevsky, and Greta Thunberg’s activism
Svetlana Alexievich gave a lecture last week commemorating the work of murdered Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaya. Alexievich’s book Last Witnesses: Unchildlike Stories was published in June in the UK, more than three decades after it first appeared in the USSR to critical acclaim. It is based on interviews with a Soviet generation that experienced the second world war as children and has lived ever since with trauma. In 2015 Alexievich, now 71, won the Nobel prize for literature. The committee praised “her polyphonic writings, a monument to suffering and courage in our time”. She lives in Minsk, Belarus, and is currently writing books about love and death.
Why are you in the UK?I came because of Anna [Politkovskaya]. I loved and respected her so much. We met in 2005 at a prize ceremony in Oslo. There were many people there but Anna was somehow on her own, separate from the others. She was a person of extreme integrity bordering on fanaticism. We had a coffee, talked. There was one theme that united us: war. She was traumatised, at that point very close to a nervous breakdown, and full of pain and frustration. Anna was unhappy that she couldn’t explain the situation [in Chechnya]. She wasn’t able to make the west understand. She told me about the threats she was receiving. Her assassination [in 2006] came as a complete shock. I knew from our conversations that she was more or less prepared for this to happen. As a writer, I imagine what she was going through when she entered the lift of her apartment and the killer was there. It’s hard to imagine.
Read more: theguardian.com