Svetlana Alexievich was born in 1948 in Ivano-Frankivsk (in the former USSR, modern-day Ukraine) to a Ukrainian mother and Belarusian father. She studied Journalism in Minsk, went on to work as a teacher and later became a reporter for various newspapers and magazines. While carrying out interviews as part of her work, Svetlana Alexievich found her own literary sub-genre of non-fiction, the »novel in voices«, which she has continued to develop aesthetically.
In her first work of prose »The Unwomanly Face of War« (1985) which deals with Soviet female soldiers in and after World War II, she weaves the original voices of interviewees into a panorama that thwarts any attempts to forget. As a result, she was accused of muddying the »honour of the great war of her Fatherland«, which led to the loss of her position at one newspaper. Later on, the writer was repeatedly at loggerheads with the authorities. Her novel »The Boys of Zinc« (1989), a collage made up of interviews with soldiers, their mothers, wives and widows talking about the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan also took her before the courts several times. After Lukashenko came to power as President in 1994, her books were taken from the school curricula in Belarus and could no longer be published there. She has been living in the West since 2000, with some interruptions. Her most famous and until now her last work of prose »Voices from Chernobyl« (2005) presents psychological portraits in literary monologues gained from interviews with the people directly affected by the nuclear reactor disaster. Thus emerges an »immense requiem of lament and accusations, with which the author has undoubtedly placed herself alongside Chekhov’s ›Sakhalin Island‹ and Solzhenitsyn’s ›The Gulag Archipelago‹« (Frankfurter Rundschau). Alexievich’s form of »diary-based literature« starts out by carrying out extensive interviews with normal people and victims of historical events, which she then consilidates to stories told as monologues. »I see the world simultaneously in voices … From these thousands of voices I do not create reality (reality is beyond comprehension) but instead an image of my time, my country … Everything comes together in a little encyclopaedia, the encyclopaedia of my generation, the people I have met« is how the author describes her working style. Svetlana Alexievich’s works have been translated into 35 languages. More than 20 documentary films have been made based on her screenplays.
She has won many prizes for her committed prose work, including the Leipziger Buchpreis for European Understanding (1998), the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung prize for best political book of the year in 1998, the Kurt-Tucholsky prize from the Swedish P.E.N. in 1996, the National Book Critics Circle Award (2006), and the Polish Ryszard-Kapuściński-Preis. At the moment she is preparing her book »Second-Hand-Zeit. Das Ende des roten Menschen« (tr: »Second-Hand Time: The End of the Red Person«). The author is a 2011 guest of the DAAD Artists-in-Berlin Program.
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