Svetlana Alexievich (Fitzcarraldo Editions)
In what is considered to be the magnum opus from the Belarusian writer, and winner of the 2015 Nobel Prize in Literature, Svetlana Alexievich, she weaves together a rich tapestry of Russian voices and thoughts during the breakup of the Soviet Union in the 1990s, and the subsequent emergence of a new Russia. Rather than being a simple history book, Second-Hand Time chronicles the oral history of the age with interviews taking place from 1991 to 2012 as people remember the various terrors of the decades of Soviet rule, nostalgia, and a sense of hope and pride in their country. The book offers a fascinating insight into the minds of average Russians during one of the most polemical eras in modern history, and more importantly allows for a better understanding of a country that is often looked upon with suspicion and distrust.
Histories are more often than not written about Emperors, Presidents, Premiers and Prime Ministers, but refreshingly Alexievich moves the focus back onto the people who had to live through gulags, ethnic violence, wars, famine and political extremism. When reading about any national disaster it can be easy to look at statistics, dates and facts in a rather sterile way, but the writer here forces the reader to look at it from an emotional aspect, and at the hundreds of thousands of personal tragedies and changes that defined the period.
This book not only highlights the devastating events that took place in the post-Cold War USSR, but also humanises often misunderstood people and provides an all-important context for Russian relations with the West today. Painstakingly curated and beautifully written, Alexievich’s Second-Hand Time is nothing short of a masterpiece, and an essential insight into another world.
Price: £10.49. Info: www.fitzcarraldoeditions.com
words LUKE OWAIN BOULT