Ruth Scurr

Spectator Books of the Year: Svetlana Alexievich’s ‘Second-Hand Time’

Spectator Books of the Year: Svetlana Alexievich's 'Second-Hand Time'
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‘Memory is a creature that is alive… nobody has simple relations with memory,’ Svetlana Alexievich told the Cambridge literary festival earlier this year. She was speaking through a translator about Second-Hand Time, first published in English in 2016 (Fitzcarraldo Editions, £14.99) and her earlier books including Chernobyl Prayer and War’s Unwomanly Face. Alexievich claims that she does not conduct interviews, only conversations, and that the stories she collects — about the collapse of communism, the suffering of those with radiation poisoning, and the experiences of women during the second world war — involve giving something of herself. Her books are repositories for voices that would otherwise be lost. Lest anyone think Alexievich is concerned only with grim and disturbing topics, her next book is about the experience of love. She is my discovery of 2016.

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