Belarusian investigative journalist Svetlana Alexievich has been awarded the 2015 Nobel Prize for Literature. The selection of a non-fiction writer is a rare development for the Nobel, which has overwhelmingly favored fiction writers over the years.
Alexievich is known in the U.S. pretty much exclusively for her powerful book of non-fiction, Voices from Chernobyl, which was translated by Keith Gessen and initially published in hardcover by Dalkey Archive Press. The book relies on the testimony of survivors, in the vein of John Hersey’s Hiroshima. Dan Wickett wrote about the book in these pages in 2005:
I don’t think I set this 300-plus page book down once after I started reading it. Alexievich, at danger to her own self, visited the area surrounding the Chernobyl nuclear reactor and interviewed anybody she could find who would talk – people who had been firefighters, or relatives of residents who evacuated, those who didn’t, hunters of animals left behind, etc. It’s absolutely fascinating to read what happened, how people found out, and the various reactions to the news.
Alexievich’s book on the Soviet war in Afghanistan, Zinky Boys, takes a similar approach, as do several other volumes which have as yet not been published in English translations.