Author Svetlana Alexievich has been named the recipient of the 2013 Peace Prize by a German book trade association. In an interview with DW, the Belarusian speaks about the award, her work and her new book.
DW: What were you thinking when you learned that you had been awarded the Peace Prize of the German Publishers and Booksellers Association?
Svetlana Alexievich: Awards like these don't feel like some personal achievement, but as support for all Belarusians. Liberal aspirations have failed in Belarus. People are sitting in prison, literary works are not being printed - like in my case. I have no way to speak with my readers. Those in charge pretend I'm not there. But this award gives me support.
Despite these difficulties, you decided to return to Belarus in 2011. Why?
I had reasons, both private and professional. While I was living abroad, my parents died. My granddaughter has just turned seven, and I want to see her grow up. As an author, I write books that require me to be in the middle of things. If I'm not there for a few months, something will have already changed. I will only leave Belarus again if my life is in danger.
A writer needs readers. New editions of your books are constantly being printed in Germany, but in Belarus young people hardly know who you are since your books aren't being printed there.
In order for people to read books, they first must be written. And to write the sorts of books that I write, I need to be there. I need to listen to conversations on the streets, in the cafés or in restaurants. My ears are open to the noise of the streets; they are my tools.
You write in an unusual style for Russian-language literature, a sort of documentary prose. Why did you decide to write this way?
It's not that new. There were authors who used a similar style to write about the war. I grew up in a Belarusian village, and after the war those sorts of villages were home mostly to women. I observed life through the voices of women. Suffering was a constant topic of conversation. I only deepened and further developed this genre.
Some writers want to change the world, make it a better place. Do you also have these ambitions?
In my new book, "The End of the Red People," I wanted to write a kind of encyclopedia of the "red" life. I want to record its history. Communism is like a viral infection. No one can guarantee that it will be gone forever. I travelled through Russia and felt the desire there for a new revolution. This experience [life in the Soviet Union] was terrible, bloody. I wanted to write the truth, and gave a voice to the victims as well as the executioners.
We are a society of victims. The executioners disappear, and then we don't know what they were thinking. I was able to meet with some of these people and talk with them about their ideological motives. The good and bad are very difficult to keep apart for us. For this reason, it's important for us to hear these voices. The Germans have processed their past, thanks to intellectuals. We have failed. We have sealed our past shut.
Svetlana Alexievich, 65, became well known for her books on the Chernobyl disaster and the Soviet war in Afghanistan. She has lived in Italy, France and Germany, and returned to her native Belarus in 2011. She will be awarded the Peace Price by the German Publishers and Booksellers Association at the Frankfurt Book Fair in October.