Svetlana Alexievich, the Belarusian writer whose oral histories have recorded thousands of individual voices to map the implosion of the Soviet Union, has won the Nobel prize for literature.
The Swedish Academy, announcing her win, praised Alexievich’s “polyphonic writings”, describing them as a “monument to suffering and courage in our time”.
The academy called while she was at home, “doing the ironing,” she said, adding that the 8m Swedish krona (£775,000) prize would “buy her freedom”.
“It takes me a long time to write my books, from five to 10 years. I have two ideas for new books so I’m pleased that I will now have the freedom to work on them.”
Alexievich was born on the 31 May 1948 in the Ukrainian town of Ivano-Frankovsk into a family of a serviceman. Her father is Belarusian and her mother is Ukrainian. After her father’s demobilisation from the army the family returned to his native Belorussia and settled in a village where both parents worked as schoolteachers. She left school to work as a reporter on the local paper in the town of Narovl.
She has written short stories, essays and reportage but says she found her voice under the influence of the Belorusian writer Ales Adamovich, who developed a genre which he variously called the “collective novel”, “novel-oratorio”, “novel-evidence”, “people talking about themselves” and the “epic chorus”.
According to Sara Danius, the permanent secretary of the Swedish Academy, Alexeivich is an “extraordinary” writer.
“For the past 30 or 40 years she’s been busy mapping the Soviet and post soviet individual,” Danius said, “but it’s not really about a history of events. It’s a history of emotions – what she’s offering us is really an emotional world, so these historical events she’s covering in her various books, for example the Chernobyl disaster, the Soviet war in Afghanistan, these are in a way just pretexts for exploring the Soviet individual and the post-Soviet individual.”