It is rarely a recall in detail the very first meeting with a writer. But in Svetlana Aleksijevitjs case it is for me razor sharp. I sat in autumn 1998 in an aircraft seat on a longer trip and picked up the little paperback book my wife had sent. The book was called Prayer for Chernobyl , the title of the first chapter was “A single human voice” and the story began with the following lines: “I do not know what to tell you … If death or love? Or, if it’s the same thing … what? “
was a young Ukrainian widow who brought the word. In straight anföring with those intercalated three points breathing told her about both death and love, and if that disaster that changed so many lives as one of the world’s nuclear power plant exploded and a superpower went under.
was a kind of relentless, elevated journalism. Literature simply. Of a kind I had not read before. I was forced to place in Chernobyl, almost enclosed, physically felt the weight of those recurrent points in the text that created pain and saknadens breath. Real people … real life … Journalism? Yes, but even great literature. And my tears were very real. Chair neighbor cleared his throat gently and asked how things were. “It’s just this book,” I replied. Just!?
It was a harrowing experience. Lyudmila, as she was called, was just the first voice in an increasingly drive where rehabilitator, a helicopter pilot, more widows, engineers testified about the disaster and a brilliant pain through repressed and forbidden zones. Both the government proposals and of Western propaganda.
I came to make a movie about that first widow, and I got to meet Svetlana Alexievich few times over the years.
What I did not know then that this prayer for the Chernobyl were part of a gigantic project to portray a lot of time and several generations whose lives and experiences had disappeared in the Cold War chasm.
For some months is a Swedish audience could see the entire Svetlana Aleksijevitjs suite of five unabridged books on what she called Homo Sovjeticus. It is a true cultural achievement as the publisher Ersatz have done and now the Academy surprisingly gives a rightful reward.
Aleksijevitj initiated efforts to interview and gather votes for more than 40 years ago, in the 1970s. Even then, with the ambition to depict the real man that lived, loved and were behind that iron curtain that obscured so much. It ended five books and 2 400 pages; Utopia votes .
These voices; women who remember their efforts during World War II, ( The war has no female face ). Women who chose to defend the country in the Great Patriotic War and was fortunate or unfortunate enough to survive. When the war finally came to an end, in victory, the mass graves filled, illusions buried and summer of 1945 would open world, where they were expected to throw uniform and turn into “real” women. Mothers, wives, mistresses. They would forget everything and put away their medals.
Or the women who remember what it was like to be a child when the German tanks rolled into Minsk ( The last witnesses ) and who have lived their lives with all the grim reality of life luggage. Or women who wear the pain continue to receive their dead and blown-up sons in sealed zinc coffins from the futile war in Afghanistan ( Zinc Boys ).
For these retrospective but the vivid memories will come as a powerful final chords her latest book in which women (and men) tells of the red man’s downfall in the era of values in the Time secondhand when the Soviet Union was transformed, materially, mentally, to the new Russia.
This is a grand and unique literary venture, epic in the deepest sense, in which a form of journalism – all the books are structured in a similar manner; direct anföring, thousands interview hours trickled by Aleksijevitjs poetic sense and so these magic points – enhanced and transformed.
Svetlana Alexievich have traveled, the interviews and the political headwinds. It’s people who come to meet us. Not a unilateral oppressed collectives only dream of western blessings. There are people, citizens who live, love and die while the official history is rewritten and ancient walls are falling and new erected. In Finland Belarus are her books are not available. She has been a haven for writers, both in Berlin and Gothenburg.
In the Soviet Union that is now no longer there, her books heavily censored to the extent that they all were published. In our part of the world complicated the propaganda pictures with their human voices.
But more than anything else, it is the women and the solidarity history. The women who remember, who did not drank himself to death, which put the potatoes and the children of the world. And let the dream of utopia was still possible to live in that we all call life.
Recently I met Aleksijevitj was the other year at the City Library in Malmö. Together with his congenial translator Kajsa Öberg-Lindsten she told about that Great Patriotic War which also had a female face.
Beyond bibliotekshyllornas sharp lines I heard a baby cry persistently while Aleksijevitj made war madness present. She read a paragraph. It was about the sound of the bombs … and by death. Everything that can not be described other than those in which silence points … where the small words become big and a crying baby wearing utopia of another world.