The Swedish Academy awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature on Thursday to Svetlana Alexievich, a Belarusian investigative journalist who has collected hundreds of firsthand accounts of international conflicts including World War II, the Soviet War and the Chernobyl disaster.
Alexievich’s work offers a personal glimpse into the lives of individuals affected by large-scale events. For her book “The Unwomanly Face of War” (1985), Alexievich interviewed Soviet women who braved the front lines of World War II. In “Voices from Chernobyl: The Oral History of a Nuclear Disaster” (2005), her subjects recounted their stories of the 1986 nuclear meltdown. Her book “Zinky Boys: Soviet Voices from the Afghanistan War” (1992) chronicled Soviet viewpoints on the Soviet war in Afghanistan, which lasted from 1979 to 1989. Its title references the zinc coffins of the Soviet soldiers that had died in the war.
The academy’s permanent secretary Sara Danius said her approach provides a unique lens by which to examine Soviet and post-Soviet life. “It’s a history of emotions – what she’s offering us is really an emotional world, so these historical events she’s covering in her various books, for example the Chernobyl disaster, the Soviet war in Afghanistan, these are in a way just pretexts for exploring the Soviet individual and the post Soviet individual,” she said.
Alexievich was born in 1948 in Ivano-Frankivsk, Ukraine, to a Ukrainian mother and Belarusian father. After her father completed military service in Ukraine, the family moved back to Belarus. Alexievich studied journalism at the University of Minsk from 1967 to 1972. She worked as a teacher and journalist at local newspapers in Brest and Minsk.
Alexievich is the 14th woman and first journalist to win the $960,000 prize. The academy said the award went to Alexievich “for her polyphonic writings, a monument to suffering and courage in our time.”
Alexievich will receive the award in a ceremony on Dec. 10.