Thursday, October 8, 2015

The Newest Nobel Prize in Literature Winner: Svetlana Alexievich

The Nobel Prize in Literature has just been announced: the winner is Svetlana Alexievich, of Belarus. She is a journalist and mostly nonfiction writer, one of the few such writers ever awarded the Prize. The New York Times (10/8/15) states that she is “known for her deeply researched work about female Russian soldiers in world War II and the aftermath of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster” as well as the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan. The author herself describes her writing as follows: “I am writing a history of human feelings.” When I saw the New York Times news alert message on email, I eagerly opened the message, hoping the winner would be an author I had read and admired. I remembered how exhilarated I was when the great Canadian short story writer Alice Munro, one of my favorite writers of all time, won in 2013. But the name I saw today was completely unknown to me, and according to the NYT article, to most Americans. Her work is little translated into English, and barely available in the U.S. I felt a bit of disappointment. But as I thought more about it, I was reminded that one of the purposes of this prize is to bring great, although perhaps not famous, writers to the attention of the world. We -- whatever our own country and language -- should know about writers from countries, cultures, and languages that are not our own. I chided myself for being English-centric, and West-centric. As I read more about Alexievich’s work, I was impressed; she is truly trying, through her careful research and writing, to show the effects of war and other disasters on ordinary people. Perhaps her most well known book is “War’s Unwomanly Face” (1988). Of course I was glad too that a woman had won, as she is only the 14th woman awarded this immensely prestigious literary prize.
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