Earlier today the 2015 Nobel Prize in Literature was awarded to the Belarusian author Svetlana Alexievich “for her polyphonic writings, a monument to suffering and courage in our time” (click here to see her page on the official Nobel Prize site). Alexievich is 67 and writes in Russian.
I had never really heard of Alexievich until her name rose in the ranks of Nobel potentials a year or two ago, and I have yet to read anything she’s written. From my understanding, though, and some people are griping about this, she is primarily if not exclusively a nonfiction writer (detractors are calling her a reporter). To me this is exciting as nonfiction writers get overlooked when it comes to the Nobel — there are only a handful of laureates who could be considered nonfiction writers. Sadly for those of us who must rely on English translations of her work, we do not have much to choose from yet. Dalkey Archive has published Voices from Chernobyl, which examines that nuclear disaster, which you can find relatively easily, but the only other work that appears to be available is the hard to find (for now) Zinky Boys, a look at the Soviet Union’s war in Afghanistan. Presumably this will change shortly and we’ll get more of her work. The wonderful UK publisher Fitcarraldo Editions is publishing Second-Hand Time (perhaps under a different translation of the title) next year.
So little of her work is available in English, but she actually does not have a large body of work to begin with, something else her detractors are noting. By my count — correct me if you know the right answer in the comments below — it appears she has six or seven books to her name, her first arriving in 1985.
Personally, as a fan of oral histories, which seems to be what Alexievich does, I’m anxious to read her works!