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Thread: Nobel Prize in Literature 2015

  1. #81
    Join Date
    Sep 2012
    literary abyss, LA

    Default Re: Nobel Prize in Literature 2015

    I wonder if Politkovskaya had not been killed, if she would have been a serious competition for Svetlana. I have not yet read anything of Svetlana's but from what it sounds like, Svetlana's writing is very much in the same vein as Politkovskaya's. Politkovskaya's A Small Corner of Hell: Dispatches from Chechnya is a brilliant piece of journalistic literature, brilliant in a very discomforting way. Voices from Chernobyl just brought Politkovskaya's A Small Corner of Hell to mind.

  2. #82
    Join Date
    Oct 2008

    Default Re: Nobel Prize in Literature 2015

    We have a winner now and everybody is talking about her. But are the real losers on this? People seeing their opportunities diminished or vanished after Svetlana's win. Here'a a list I could think of:

    Old Russian writers: this was the easy one, perennial Russian candidates like Yevgueni Yevtushenko & Liudmila Ulítskaya see their chances gone. There's a younger generation (Shiskin, Pelevin, Sorokin, etc) that could still be contender in more than 10 years though therefore not directly affected by this award.

    Non-fiction candidates: awarding a non-fiction writer this year doesn't mean it will become usual. Journalists like Joan Didion will have a hard time to be considered in the next few years.

    Critics of the soviet regime: Writers like Ismail Kadare and Milan Kundera, who where critics of the Iron curtain on eastern Europe countries. Probably Alexievich will be the last one to win the prize based on the critic of a state that died more than 20 years ago.

    Of course there are many more names that could fit into either category or simply new categories to consider.

  3. #83
    Join Date
    Oct 2012
    New Jersey, USA

    Default Re: Nobel Prize in Literature 2015

    Just started Zinky Boys, it's great so far. It is primarily an oral history, but Alexievich allows herself a voice here, mostly as a framing device. One Russian commenter elsewhere said he did not think Alexievich was a good writer, so I really scrutinized those passages where it's her writing...and, at least in translation, it's really good. Not as good as some other Nobel winners, but there's nothing I would complain about, and considering that same commenter went on to denounce the west for always picking on poor Putin, I think he had ulterior motives for posting... Lots of journalists are summing up Alexievich as either a reporter or journalist, which I think is a real simplification. Throughout her frame story, she tosses in ample quotes from big authors, mostly Russian, but also Shakeapeare, which hint at what she's trying to do: not just report, but get to the truth of the matter, if it's possible, and probe the human spirit in relation to these disasters.

    So far it's the same as her Chernobyl book: each voice is so compelling it's unbelievable. Each one is so depressive and grating that when you get to the end you think, That's it, I'm done for now, but your eye glaze over the beginning lines of the next person's story and before you know it you're sucked in. Most Americans in my generation don't know too much about this war, it's referenced in regard to the Taliban and such, but we don't really learn about it in school, so this is a real learning experience. I'll update when I'm done, but so far it's great.

    Quote Originally Posted by Stiffelio View Post
    As usual, excellent news coverage by M.A.Orthofer in The Complete Review. Here's the link to today's post:

    I particularly like his honest opinion about this year's winner:

    "What do I think ?
    Oh, dear. Longtime readers know that I am a fan of fiction, and not so much of non. I don't like memoirs, and I have an aversion to testimony-writing; the modern journalistic fashion for anecdotal and personal stories drvies me nuts (I want my news impersonal and factual (to whatever extent that's possible)). So I'm not the ideal audience for a 'creative' documentary-style writer like Alexievich; indeed, I'd rather not be an audience for it at all.
    That said, I can't really argue with the prize. I think she's worthy and deserving -- even that she's a good choice. But it's not writing that particularly interests me -- and I already dread the imitators that will follow Alexievich's writing path, emboldened by this validation of it. ('No, no ! Turn back !' I want to yell ....)"

    , which I share to some extent. I think I'll be curious to read her at some point but I'm not going to rush :-)
    YES! Thank you. Part of the reason I love the Nobel so much is that even if I don't like the winner, I can almost always see why some would think they're quality writers. In many books There are a few exceptions to this, but after purposefully seeking out Nobel winners, I could count on one hand all the true disappointments I've had.

  4. #84
    Join Date
    Oct 2012
    New Jersey, USA

    Default Re: Nobel Prize in Literature 2015

    Some thoughts on Zinky Boys. Not so bad as it is disappointing after Voices from Chernobyl.

    “I never want to write another word about the war, I told myself.”

    Thus begins Zinky Boys, Alexievich’s oral history on the Soviet war in Afghanistan. You get a little from her own perspective, but not as much as I would’ve hoped. It’s clear she’s far more than the simple journalist some news sites in the west summed her up as: tons of literary references and quotes pepper the book as a whole, but especially her sections.

    As far as books go, it’s good, very good, though perhaps a little plain. It’s ultimately an oral history on a war few of us have a connection to. I’m sure when he came out it caused a scandal, given how much about the war was censored, but for westerners, it’s nothing new. For those that don’t know, Alexievich primarily works to give voices to the many individuals behind big events by interviewing people and from their answers crafting monologues.

    While her book Voices from Chernobyl worked great in this regard, here many of the stories are so short that they don’t have the space to build the same kind of power and resonance. In addition, the Chernobyl book had an excellent structure, going from widows to soldiers there at the times to peasants to refugees from another country who settled on the land, but not skipping around, staying more or less to one subject and time period for a bunch of monologues before moving on. In this one the basic stories are all kind of the same, a soldier, a widow, a mother, and they are all thrown together, as far as I can tell, without that same geographic or chronology link. There are some poignant scenes, but for the most part the people’s monologues blend together into one, which could be the point, but takes away what helped make Voices from Chernobyl so great.

    Ultimately, there’s not much else to say. It’s not a bad book, in fact it’s pretty good, but it pails in comparison to the author’s other work. It has insights into the human condition, but none that you couldn’t find in another war story. Like I said before, it’s an oral history about a war few of us are connected to, so a lot of what I’d really critique or examine when looking at other books does not apply here. The author’s greatest strength here is her weakness: she does not seek to educate or entertain, but rather record these stories, with all their emotion, on paper. In Voices from Chernobyl I think those qualities enabled it to transcend its genre into a very powerful and impossible to put down read; here, it’s more a collection of primary sources. And ultimately, in 10 years time, I can see her Chernobyl book still being read by the general populace (and, if the descriptions of her other books are as good as they sound, her forthcoming ones in English), but this one already relegated to very specific university history classes and read nowhere else.

    If it’s sounds like I’m being harsh, it’s more Voices from Chernobyl was just that good. That was one of the best works by a recent Nobel winner. This did not have anywhere near the same impact on me. I’m clearly not the intended audience here, I doubt many people on this forum are, but that has not stopped me from enjoying fiction from all over the world. It’s still a very good read, but unless you’re a fan of hers, I would say start elsewhere to see why instead of just a political choice she was one of the best recently. Hope her others are more similar to Chernobyl than this one.


  5. #85

  6. #86

    Default Re: Nobel Prize in Literature 2015

    For those of you who understand french, I recommend listening to this wonderful series of interviews conducted by Radio France with Svetlana Alexeivich

  7. #87

    Default Re: Nobel Prize in Literature 2015

    Thanks for posting that Hoodoo. I'm going to give it a shot this weekend, but I don't know if my ears for French are sufficiently developed to handle an interview anymore. I might need to do some training to bring them back up to snuff.

    There has been some interesting discussion in the 2016 speculation thread about Svetalana and how her work isn't actually "non-fiction". I am somewhat surprised by this. It has even been referenced in an article posted in the thread, published in The New Republic. I've found any serious information on Svetlana very difficult to find in English, and so I am curious where people are learning about her writing style and methodology. As a historian, and as one who is developing a project at the moment very much so informed by her historical approach, I'm curious about how much of her work is "fiction". Can anybody direct me to a few resources? Or explain what they know?

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