January 01, 2016

Ignoble Reactions

Envy is an ordinary human emotion familiar to us all. But, since we were children, we have been taught to overcome this feeling, or at least avoid showing it. But if your colleague, someone who is doing basically the same thing you do, suddenly attains international renown and a prestigious award, how hard it apparently is to restrain yourself and avoid making a disgraceful scene!

The amount of filth that has been hurled at Svetlana Alexievich by her fellow writers – Russian and Belarusian alike – is truly amazing. Of course, the main accusation being leveled against the 2015 Nobel laureate for literature is that her documentary novels “aren’t really literature.” One gets the impression that her critics are completely out of touch with how contemporary literature has been developing, with the new genres that have emerged.

It is true that 90 percent of Alexievich’s books consist of stories related to her by a host of people, but to call them a “collection of interviews” totally misses the point. They are masterfully composed documentary collages through which Alexievich’s authorial perspective clearly shines, and in which quantity (the wealth of materials collected) is magically transformed into quality – a great work of literature.

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