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Svatlana Alrxievich

"I'm searching life for observations, nuances, details. Because
my interest in life is not the event as such, not war as such, not Chernobyl as such, not suicide as such. What I am interested in is what happens to the human being, what happens to it in of our time. How does man behave and react. How much of the biological man is in him, how much of the man of his time, how much man of the man."


In lieu of biography

I've been searching for a genre that would be most adequate to my vision of the world to convey how my ear hears and my eyes see life.I tried this and that and finally I chose a genre where human voices speak for themselves. Real people speak in my books about the main events of the age such as the war, the Chernobyl disaster, and the downfall of a great empire. Together they record verbally the history of the country, their common history, while each person puts into words the story of his/her own life. Today when man and the world have become so multifaceted and diversified the document in art is becoming increasingly interesting while art as such often proves impotent. The document brings us closer to reality as it captures and preserves the originals. After 20 years of work with documentary material and having written five books on their basis I declare that art has failed to understand many things about people.

But I don't just record a dry history of events and facts, I'm writing a history of human feelings. What people thought, understood and remembered during the event. What they believed in or mistrusted, what illusions, hopes and fears they experienced. This is impossible to imagine or invent, at any rate in such multitude of real details. We quickly forget what we were like ten or twenty or fifty years ago. Sometimes we are ashamed of our past and refuse to believe in what happened to us in actual fact. Art may lie but document never does. Although the document is also a product of someone's will and passion. I compose my books out of thousands of voices, destinies, fragments of our life and being. It took me three-four years to write each of my books. I meet and record my conversations with 500-700 persons for each book. My chronicle embraces several generations. It starts with the memories of people who witnessed the 1917 Revolution, through the wars and Stalinist gulags, and reaches the present times. This is a story of one Soviet-Russian soul.

My first book is The Unwomanly Face of the War.
More than a million Soviet women saw action at the frontlines of the Second World War. They were aged from fifteen to thirty years. They mastered the various military professions becoming pilots, tank drivers, machine-gunners, snipers, and many others. They were not only nurses and doctors as in the previous wars. However after the victory men forgot about those women. Men stole the victory from the women.
In my book the women soldiers talk about those aspects of the war, which men never mentioned. We did not know about such a war. Men described their exploits while women talked about something else. For example, how frightening it was to walk along a field covered with dead bodies, scattered about like potatoes, all very young. You feel sorry for all of them, both the Russian and the Germans.
After the war, women had to fight another war. They concealed their military IDs and certificates of wounds because they wanted to get married.

My second book is The Last Witnesses: the Book of Unchildlike Stories.
These are war reminiscences of those who were only seven to twelve years old. The war is described through innocent children's eyes. Dostoyevsky once said that the common good is not worth anything if it is obtained at the cost of one child's tear.

The third book is Boys in Zinc
It is about the ten-year Soviet-Afghan war. It comprises stories by more than a hundred officers and soldiers taking part in this incomprehensible war, as well as widows and mothers of war victims. We learn how the two worlds - East and West - clashed in a cruel and hopeless duel. What kind of war it was, what people were thinking about then, how they killed one another, how they desperately strived to survive. "Even time was passing differently there, the calendar itself was different: it was almost 200 years back in time." This is what I heard again and again in many stories.
You read this book as if it were written not then but now, as if it were written for us, who have witnessed the 9/11 tragedy when the world changed radically within one day. It moved backwards instead of moving forward, towards the armed man rather than the unarmed man. One of the characters says in the end: "Those who were there will not want to fight again. You ought to fight ideas rather than people. Kill the ideas, which make our world so inhospitable and frightening, and leave people alone."
This is what's on the mind of every person today.

The Chernobyl Prayer: Chronicles of the Future
After the Chernobyl disaster we are living in a different world. In fact two catastrophes happened at almost the same time - one of cosmic dimension in Chernobyl and the social catastrophe when the huge socialist mainland went under. The second crash overshadowed the first one because it was of more immediate concern to us and more understandable. What happened in Chernobyl was the first such catastrophe and we are the first to experience it. We are now living with it, something is happening to us: the blood formula and the genetic codes change, familiar landscapes disappear. But to fully comprehend what is happening we would need different human experience and a different inner instrument, which does not exist yet. Our vision and nose do not yet sense the new enemy, one that is coming from the future - radiation. Even our words and feelings are not adjusted to what had happened and our whole experience of suffering, underlying our history, is of little use to us now. Our measure of horror is the same - war. Our consciousness does not move deeper than that, it stands still at the threshold. What happened in Chernobyl is much worse than the gulags and the Holocaust.
It is hard to defend ourselves from the unknown, from what is yet unfamiliar to the humankind. Chernobyl changed our relationship with time. The words "forever" and "never" filled with a different meaning and assumed material form. All our previous notions about large and small catastrophes turned out to be insufficient - man peered into the chasm of the cosmos. We were deprived of immortality at once. Time stopped still on the dead territory and became what it is has always been - eternity.
Some day, our days, the Chernobyl days, will become a myth. New generations will be looking back at us and wonder how it all happened, what sort of people lived then, what they felt and thought, how they related it all and what they remembered.
Man and event - could they be equal? Events related by one person make up his/her own life, but events related by many people make up history.
The history of Chernobyl is still being written. This is a riddle for the 21st century and a challenge to it.

The Wonderful Deer of the Eternal Hunt.
The author's commentary to the story of these stories.
What will the reader find in this book? That everything turns into memories. That each life is interesting in its own way. That without death you can't understand life. That love plunges us into the depths of our own selves. That human beings are neither saints nor satans but somewhere in between. That our knowledge is powerless. That in love people look for the same things as in war and crime. That each one of us conceals both men and women. That we live among shadows, among the impossible and the unrealized. That in love you may disappear as in death. That the real life and death of the body is inaccessible to us. That Christ was also a man. That you can die from love during the war. That everyone may recall what he/she would like to conceal. That all creatures in this world love one another - flowers, trees, butterflies, worms, birds. That no modern technology can free us from the need to love, feel and suffer. That we cannot get used to the thought that everything for us is limited by the duration of our life. That there are men who realize how interesting it is to be a woman. That the time in love which flows differently from the ordinary time of our lives. That people yearn for immortality. That human mysteries are fragile and merciless. That pain is an art. That our little death is very near. That everything Russian is filled with sorrow.
The book includes a hundred male and female stories about people's desire and failure to find happiness.


Copyright © Svetlana Alexievich, 2006; Design and Programming - MK-Web; Contact: Literary agent Galina Dursthoff