Alexievich's ear for the testimony of war and hardship made her a Nobel laureate. In a rare interview, she reveals how she marries the craft of journalism with the novelist's artby Andrew Dickson / March 14, 2017 / Leave a comment
Published in April 2017 issue of Prospect Magazine
In a vast, draughty exhibition centre at the Minsk book fair, hundreds of people stand in line. The queue straggles past the children’s bookstand and around a fake red phone box installed by the British embassy. People have been here for hours. At the other end of the hall, a slight woman sits at a table silently signing books. Occasionally she poses for photographs, looking uncomfortable. It is going to be a long day.
When Svetlana Alexievich won the Nobel Prize for literature in 2015, few people outside the Russian-speaking world had heard of her. Some questioned whether a little-known oral historian from Belarus deserved the honour. But here in Minsk, her country’s capital, Alexievich has long been a household name, revered because her writings have trained a spotlight on this disregarded, much-abused corner of Europe. Although—or perhaps because—her books were not officially available for years, a victim of Belarus’s zealous censorship, she is the nearest thing the country has to an international celebrity.
Even so, seven hours later, in a reception room for a dinner in her honour, Alexievich admits that the role of national treasure is not one she finds straightforward. “I don’t enjoy it, the fuss,” she confides in me, nipping at a glass of red wine with obvious relief. There were 400 autograph-hunters at the fair, and she turned away 200 more. She pulls a face: what can you do?
Not that it’s been all bad: the Nobel money, the best part of £700,000, means she has recently been able to move from her Soviet-era, two-room apartment in Minsk to a larger one in a glossy new development. When she can, she retreats to a village outside the capital, whe…