The Associated Press
STOCKHOLM—Belarusian writer Svetlana Alexievich won the Nobel Prize in literature today for works that chronicled the great tragedies of the Soviet Union and those that followed in the wake of its 1991 collapse.
Alexievich, the 14th woman to win the literature award since 1901, used her reporting skills to create literature chronicling World War II, the Soviet war in Afghanistan, the 1986 Chornobyl nuclear disaster, and social problems like attempted suicides after the Soviet Union disintegrated.
It was the first time the Swedish Academy has honoured journalistic work, according to its permanent secretary, Sara Danius.
Danius praised the 67-year-old Alexievich as a great and innovative writer who has “mapped the soul” of the Soviet and post-Soviet people.
The academy itself said Alexievich was chosen “for her polyphonic writings; a monument to suffering and courage in our time.”
“She is offering us new and interesting historical material. And she has developed a particular writing style, as well, a new literary genre,” Danius told The Associated Press.
“She has said many times that ‘I’m not interested in events, the history of events, I’m interested in the history of emotions,’ and that’s kept her busy for the past 40 years,” Danius added.
Like many intellectuals in Belarus, Alexievich supports the political opponents of authoritarian president Alexander Lukashenko, who is up for re-election this Sunday.
Because of her criticism of the government, she periodically has lived abroad—including in Italy, France, Germany, and Sweden—but now lives in Minsk, the Belarusian capital.
Alexievich told The AP she had not yet received any congratulations from the president, whom she pithily has criticized for years.
“It’d be interesting to see what he’s going to do in the situation,” she remarked, speaking on the landing outside her apartment in a Soviet-era block.
The writers’ group English PEN called Alexievich “a tireless chronicler of voices which might not otherwise be heard,” and said it hoped her victory would encourage the Belarus government to improve its human rights record.
At a news conference in Minsk, the writer said Belarusian authorities simply pretend she doesn’t exist.
“They don’t print my books here,” she noted. “I can’t speak anywhere publicly.
“Belarusian television never invites me.”
But Alexievich said she is unfazed by messages of hate she sometimes receives from conservative columnists in both Russia and Belarus.
“I think nobody loves the truth,” she remarked. “I love the Russian people. I love the Belarusian people.”
Her books have been published in 19 countries, with at least five of them translated into English.
She also has written three plays and the screenplays for 21 documentary films.
Her first book, “War’s Unwomanly Face,” published in 1985, was based on the previously untold stories of women who had fought against Nazi Germany.
It sold more than two million copies.
Speaking to Swedish broadcaster SVT, Alexievich said winning the award left her with “complicated” emotions.
“It immediately evokes such great names as [Ivan] Bunin, [Boris] Pasternak,” she said, referring to Russian writers who have won the Nobel Prize for literature
“On the one hand, it’s such a fantastic feeling. But it’s also a bit disturbing.”
Asked what she would do with the eight million Swedish kronor (about $960,000) in Nobel prize money, she said it would allow her to write more.
“I do only one thing: I buy freedom for myself,” Alexievich noted. “It takes me a long time to write my books, from five-10 years.
“I have two ideas for new books, so I’m pleased that I will now have the freedom to work on them.”