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Opinion

Opinion: Alexievich understands the victims on all sides

Svetlana Alexievich is very deserving of the Nobel Prize for literature, says DW's Efim Schuhmann. Not only does she continue in the literary tradition of greats like Dostoyevsky, she has a huge capacity for compassion.

A half hour before the Swedish Academy announced that Svetlana Alexievich was this year's Literature Nobel Prize winner, the Belarusian writer received a phone call from her literary agent in Cologne.

"Wait, let me close the door, it's very loud outside," Alexievich told her agent. "People came by and are waiting to see whether the Academy is going to pick my name. I don't deserve too much attention."

That's how Alexievich is. She's modest, not a particularly public person, and as a writer she often remains behind the scenes. Instead, she lets her protagonists speak and keeps her own comments to a minimum. Those voices are the "polyphony" in her writing that the Academy praised on Thursday (08.10.2015).

The voice of the people

Alexievich has spent hours speaking with mothers who've lost their sons in Afghanistan, with victims of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster, with those who feel deceived and humiliated by the post-Soviet reforms in Russia.

These are the stories, the monologues and episodes that disturb us and have been translated into dozens of languages: "War's Unwomanly Face," "Zinky Boys," "Voices from Chernobyl," and "Second-hand Time."

DW's Efim Schuhmann, Copyright: DW / A. Galkina

DW's Efim Schuhmann

Svetlana Alexievich writes in Russian, but maintains a strong Belarusian identity. She now lives in Minsk, the capital of Belarus, although that's not easy for her. The official media in Belarus ignores her, she is prevented from meeting with readers, and the opposition is offended that she writes in Russian rather than Belarusian.

But she stays where her protagonists are - those people we'd never had heard of if it weren't forAlexievich's tireless literary work.

The art of listening to people

The master of documentary prose continues in the tradition of Russian literary greats like Dostoyevsky and Gogol. Her focus is on Russia's "little man" - Belarus and Ukraine - which "somehow survives and pulls his children out of the nightmare of everyday life."

It's the region's needs, suffering and hope that Alexievich writes about. And to do that, she has mastered the art of listening.

Alexievich's "polyphonic writing," praised by the Academy, makes the voice of the people audible and consists of personal monologues that get attention neither from the state authorities, nor the successful neighbors, nor the rich tourists from the West.

She writes with pain about the "red people" of the Soviet era, poisoned with totalitarian ideology and hate-filled nationalism. Today these people submit themselves to military hysteria.

And she writes that the "darkest and most primitive powers" are once again rising up in Russia. With concern, she notes that the "Soviet person" is taking revenge and emphasizes, without making excuses: "We are all a society of victims."

She has sympathy with these people. And her capacity for sympathy is crucial to her work. Fortunately, the Swedish Academy has understood that as well. In recent years, there has rarely been a Literature Nobel Prize winner that has deserved the award as much as Svetlana Alexievich does.

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