Belarusian Nobel Laureate Alexievich Discusses Polish Influences
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small, 2015 Nobel Laureate Alexievich Discusses Polish Influences, Svetlana Alexievich, photo: Andrzej Sidor / Forum, full__swietlana_aleksijewicz_forum_770.jpg
'I discovered the world through people like Hanna Krall and Ryszard Kapuściński', said Svetlana Alexievich, winner of the 2015 Nobel Prize for Literature, at a press conference in Minsk.
Svetlana Alexievich's comments came during a press conference held on 8th October 2015 in the tiny headquarters of the independent Belarusian newspaper Nasza Niwa, where journalists had to squash into a 20-square-metre space. Despite her prestigious global status, national publishing houses in Belarus have not published anything by Alexievich for the last twenty years.
Alexievich mentioned Ryszard Kapuściński for the first time when she explained that the success of a book does not depend on the country where the writer lives, but only on the quality of the book. When asked by the Polish Press Agency about the impact of Kapuściński's works on hers, she said:
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Ryszard Kapuściński suggested his own point of view and his works were published everywhere. I was very interested in what he thought. When I read one of his books for the first time, it was Imperium, I noticed how well he researched the field of documentary reportage, which is my own field of work.
She added that she also admires the of work Hanna Krall:
In Poland, documental books are a whole layer of culture. Russian and Belarussan cultures seem not to allow the world to explore them yet. They are a bit traditional and write in a self-sufficient way, as if they were doing everything for themselves. I explored the world through people like Hanna Krall and Ryszard Kapuściński.
Many questions were put to Alexievich concerned politics, namely the situations in Belarus, Ukraine and Russia. Alexievich, who was born in Ukraine in Stanisławów, lives in Belarus, and writes in Russian, emphasised:
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In the '90s, we were too naïve, and I talk about myself here, in thinking that we would become free immediately. As it turned out, it was impossible. We thought if people read Solzhenitsyn, they would suddenly purify themselves, but everyday somebody was murdered in some stairwell. I think that the most difficult heritage to deal with, the one that remained after the communist period, is the wounded man.
Alexievich continues to live in Belarus but now she writes about more metaphysical issues such as love and happiness. The literature theorist Professor Michał Głowiński said:
I was really glad about Svetlana Alexievich's victory. Giving the prize to her is a peculiar case in literature as such, but especially in literature of the last few decades. There used to be brilliant reporters, e.g. Egon Kisch, but literary reportage as a genre has advanced these days. It has become more popular, much like its parallel of documentary film. It is a sign of the times that a female writer has received the Nobel Prize for Literature as a reporter.
Monika Sznajderman, the editor-in-chief at Czarne publishing house, noticed that "the reporter always writes about the history that is being omitted, forgotten, the history observed by an average human being, not the history written with a capital H.". In her books, Alexievich has gathered together statements by participants of the Soviet intervention in Afghanistan, the fighters of the Great Patriotic War, and those damaged by the Chernobyl disaster. When Alexander Lukashenko came to power in Belarus, Alexievich’s books were banned and could not be published any more because she was an open critique of the regime. She was also interested in the so-called "Soviet human", as described in her book Second-Hand Time which was honoured with the Ryszard Kapuściński Award for literary reportage.
Wojciech Jagielski , the eminent reporter, drew attention to the fact that Ryszard Kapuściński was mentioned several times as a candidate to the Nobel Prize: 'That is why, in a way I treat this prize as a prize for them both'. Jagielski believes that the blossoming of reportage may be the result of a crisis in the media:
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Non-fiction literature in a sense has replaced the media’s previous role as a source of information. I feel that people turn to non-fiction books to know something about the world, because they cannot learn anything more from newspapers, TV and broadcast radio.
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Sources: PAP, 9 Oct 2015, translated by ND, 13 Oct 2015