Nobel for Literature honors 'monument to suffering and courage'

Belarusian author Svetlana Alexievich's canon chronicles life during and after the Soviet Union.

Vasily Fedosenko/Reuters
Belarussian author Svetlana Alexievich holds flowers as she arrives to attend a news conference in Minsk, Belarus, Thursday. Ms. Alexievich has won the Nobel Prize for Literature for her portrayal of life in the former Soviet Union which the Swedish Academy said was 'a monument to suffering and courage in our time.'

Svetlana Alexievich, a Belarussian author, has won the Nobel Prize In Literature for her work chronicling life during and after the Soviet Union. The Swedish Academy, which awards the prize, said Ms. Alexievich’s writing is "a monument to suffering and courage in our time."

"By means of her extraordinary method – a carefully composed collage of human voices – Alexievich deepens our comprehension of an entire era," the Swedish Academy said on Thursday upon announcing the 8-million-crown ($972,000) prize, Reuters reports.

"She has invented a new literary genre. She transcends journalistic formats and has pressed ahead with a genre that others have helped create," said Sara Danius, permanent secretary of the Swedish Academy, who announced the prize Thursday morning from the academy's Grand Hall in Stockholm's Old Town district.

"If you remove her works from the shelves there would be gaping holes. That says a lot about how original she is," Ms. Danius added.

Alexievich’s first novel, "The Unwomanly Face of the War" describes the experiences of women who fought against Nazi Germany in the Red Army, based on “hundreds of deep interviews with participants in the Second World War,” Danius said. The novel was published in 1985 and has sold more than 2 million copies.

Born in 1948 in Ukraine to two schoolteachers, Alexievich worked as a teacher and a journalist upon finishing school.

Alexievich’s work is prolific; Her books have been published in 19 countries, with at least five translated into English. She has also written three plays and the screenplays for 21 documentary films. Her work has captured events spanning World War II, the Soviet war in Afghanistan, the 1986 nuclear disaster at Chernobyl, and the suicides that ensued from those mourning the death of Communism when the Soviet-era ended in 1991.

Speaking by phone to Swedish broadcaster SVT, Alexievich said winning the Nobel prize left her with "complicated" feelings, the Associated Press reports.

"It immediately evokes such great names as (Ivan) Bunin, (Boris) Pasternak," she said, referring to other Russian writers who have won the Nobel Prize for literature. "On the one hand, it's such a fantastic feeling, but it's also a bit disturbing."

She said she was at home "doing the ironing" when the academy called. Asked what she was going to do with the the prize money, she said it would “buy freedom.”

“It takes me a long time to write my books, from five to 10 years," she said. "I have two ideas for new books, so I'm pleased that I will now have the freedom to work on them."

The prize is named after dynamite inventor Alfred Nobel, who specified in his will awards for achievements in science, literature, and peace. The awards have been given out since 1901.

This report contains material from Reuters.

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